How to detect if your teenager has depression?

One in seven adolescents in the world has a diagnosed mental problem and nearly 46,000 commit suicide annually, according to data from the World Health Organization, which estimates it is the second leading cause of death for youth.

How to detect if your teenager has depression?

UNICEF has just released the State of the World’s Children 2021 report and the figures are devastating. And the pandemic hasn’t helped reduce those numbers: A meta-analysis published in JAMA Pediatrics states that symptoms of depression have doubled in children and adolescents compared to the previous era.

Warning signs indicating depression

Depression in adolescents and children can be prevented and also treated, but for this you have to notice some signs that can give parents the alarm voice. As explained by Amalia Gordóvil, a collaborating professor at the UOC’s Studies in Psychology and Educational Sciences, “the main ones are changes in mood, beyond the usual ones – for example, that a teenager isolates himself not only from his parents, but also from his friends and loses interest in activities that he previously liked – or that he is more irritable in various environments when this did not happen before, although it can also manifest itself by means of other signs.”

“Other warning signs are changes in self-care, such as not having good personal hygiene, a drop in their academic performance or risky behaviors, whether sexual, substance abuse or criminal,” explains Gordóvil.

When can we begin to notice these warning signs?

Specialists say that, although depression can be diagnosed as early as childhood, there is an especially vulnerable stage: adolescence. The reason is that it is a period in which healthy personal development goes through an identity crisis in which the adolescent seeks other models of reference beyond those he has received from his family. “This does not mean that there is a causal relationship between adolescence and depression, but we must work from childhood to reduce risks,” says the family psychologist and collaborating professor at the UOC.

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This work consists fundamentally in that there is a climate of trust and communication at home about the emotions that are felt, so that they can be expressed without fear. But, in addition, it is important that children receive healthy models of coping with the difficulties of life. “The best help parents can offer is to take care of their own mental health to be healthy coping models,” Gordóvil warns.

‘Allies’ of depression

Experts define clinical depression as a mental disorder that affects the mood of the person who suffers from it, so that sadness or irritability and frustration significantly interfere with the person’s daily life for a long period of time, something that hinders their personal, social, school or work life. And they specify that it should always be diagnosed by a mental health professional.

But what can lead to it? According to the UOC professor, so-called “risk” factors have been described in the scientific literature, which can increase the chances of suffering from depression at an early age. Among them is the fact that a family member consumes substances, the presence of depression in one of the parents or relational difficulties between them, having suffered abuse and living other situations of acute or sustained stress, such as harassment or abuse.

Warning in time is key, as mental health professionals claim that many cases of depression go undetected, and therefore untreated. If that happens, the most serious consequence, in Gordóvil’s opinion, is that the person does not receive the necessary tools to manage their emotions and that thoughts of suicide appear, which can be put into practice.

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But, in addition, there are other possible sequelae, such as the increased chances of suffering from depression in adult life or reaching this phase of life with low self-esteem that can lead to dependent toxic relationships, deep feelings of disability or the development of other mental pathologies. “All this will hinder the day to day of the person, probably both in the personal field and in the work and family,” says the family psychologist.

The most common mistakes of parents

What can parents do, besides generating a climate of trust and emotional communication at home that encourages children to tell what happens to them? For the family psychologist, the answer is clear: in addition to the above, the best help that parents can offer is to serve as a model for their children, facing stressful situations in a healthy way. “If your children see that before a bad day at work you complain and drink a gin and tonic to forget it, or you take an anxiolytic, you are transmitting to them that emotional regulation goes through the use of substances. This is not a good coping mechanism,” he says.

It is one of the mistakes that adults unconsciously make most often, but not the only one. There are other failures that can also worsen the situation, although we do not realize it. The greatest of all, in Gordóvil’s opinion, is to invalidate the emotions of the children, transmitting messages such as “this thing that happens to you is nothing”, “I at your age did not have that nonsense in my head” or “come, savvy, that life is not easy”. With this, it is transmitted to the children that the emotions they feel are not correct and they are not given the accompaniment and guidance they need at that moment.

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In addition, there are two important messages, which can be conveyed explicitly or with acts, that put children’s mental health at risk. They are the “you are not capable” and the “you are not enough, warns Gordóvil. He adds that the first is transmitted from overprotection, doing for the children things that by age they could do for themselves, and the second is transmitted from the demand when we do not value the things they do well or disapprove of decisions in search of their own way.