Teens & Depression: 5 Behaviors Parents CANNOT Ignore

Rachel, a 16 year old high school girl, has been experimenting with drugs, skipping school, and dieting. Would you suspect depression or dismiss these behaviors as typical “growing pains”?

Teenage depression is more than mood swings and rebellion. Like adults, teenagers encounter daily life stressors. Depressed teens “act out” in many ways. Ignoring behavior indicative of depression could prove detrimental to a teen’s life. Problems at school, drug use, and suicidality are fairly common outcomes when teenage depression is ignored or untreated. The following behaviors may be signs that your teenager is experiencing depression:

1. Substance Abuse: Teens may use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate their depressive feelings. Never dismiss drug and alcohol use as “experimentation.”

2. Rebelliousness: Yes, teens do test boundaries. However consistent rebelliousness at home and school is likely a manifestation of emotional unsteadiness, feelings of being misunderstood, or a desire to fit.

3. Body Image Issues: Body image is a concern for both teens and adults. In today’s ultra vain world teenagers also feel pressure to look a certain way—taller, thinner, more fit. Negative body image is hand in hand with depression and poor self-confidence and self esteem.

4. Cutting: Cutting is a form of self-injury wherein the individual cuts on a part of their body, usually their wrist, arm, leg, or abdomen. Cutting is a way that some people, especially kids and teens, cope with the pain of depressive feelings, past trauma, and emotional withdrawal and isolation. Cutting is a cry for help that should never be dismissed or dismissed.

5. Suicide Gestures & Remarks: “I hate this house! I just want to die.” During an argument, a parent might dismiss these remarks as teenage attention-seeking or dramatics. Any ideas, comments, or attempts related to self harm or suicide should be taken seriously. The Center for Disease Control reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death, behind accidents and homicide, of people aged 15 to 24.

Parents and others (teachers, guidance counselors, family members) in contact with teens displaying these behaviors should immediately consult a mental health professional who can appropriately engage and assess the teen.

Natasha K. Nalls is an expert in the treatment of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders. She works with individuals, couples, families, and groups.