It's common for teens to be moody and grumpy, but that bad mood can also be a sign of something more serious. We ask Dr Arti Jaiswal about spotting depression in teens and how parents can help…
Mental health is oh-so-important, yet so many of us are guilty of not giving it enough thought. Mental wellbeing can affect your mood, attitude and behaviour. It can stretch a bad day into a bad week, a bad month or even longer. Now is a great opportunity to stop and assess how we’re really feeling and think about where to get help if we, or anyone we know, needs it.
Having a positive mental state can really help people cope with stress and live better. On the flip side, poor mental health can cause disruptions in life, work and school. Depression is one of the most common problems teenagers face and is a lot more serious than a young person displaying typical signs of just being a chronic couch potato. We’ve been talking to Dr Arti Jaiswal, a US-trained paediatric doctor based at IMC Paediatric, to tap in on her expertise on depression in teens, the signs parents should be looking for and – most importantly – how to help.
Depression in teens: causes, signs, and what to do as a parent
What causes the mood changes in my preteen or teenager?
Adolescence is a time for self-discovery, exploration and experimentation. The transition between childhood and adulthood is not an easy one! Though hormones are commonly blamed for the ups and downs of adolescence, the changes in teenagers are primarily because of changes in the brain. Between the ages of 12-24 years, the brain is developing faster than at any other time, and the last area to be fully developed is the frontal lobe. This area is important for impulse control and decision making. Until it is fully developed, teenagers rely on the amygdala (an almond-shaped set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe associated with emotion, impulsivity, aggression and instinct) to make decisions.
How common is depression during adolescence?
Because of these changes, depression in adolescence can be a problem. Sadly, between 10 and 15% of teenagers display symptoms of depression at any given time.
What are the signs as a parent I should look for? And how can I tell that I am dealing with depression and not just teenage angst?
Temperamental teens are common, but moodiness and excessive sleeping do not necessarily mean depression in teenagers. The following are some signs that your child may be depressed and for which you should seek help:
- Sad or irritable for most of the day, for most days in the last two weeks
- Loss of interest in things that are usually enjoyed
- Change in eating or sleeping habits
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Little energy or motivation to do anything
- Feelings of being hopeless about the future or worthlessness or guilty about things that are not their fault
- Changes in grades and academics
- Smartphone addiction (chronic smartphone use that can distract from participating in daily activities)
- Any thoughts of suicide (any comments about ‘wanting to die’ can be an indication of depression
What can my paediatrician or doctor do to help?
It is recommended that all teens be screened for depression yearly. If you are worried about depression in your teenager, schedule a doctor visit that is dedicated to discussing mood and depression. Treatment options can vary depending on the severity of your teen’s symptoms. Be assured that any evaluation and treatment are kept confidential. IMC, for example, has a strict code of conduct in relation to patient confidentiality.
How can I get through these next difficult teenage years?
Parents of all teens should practice patience and provide guidance during these sometimes challenging years. It is important to build empathy and validate your teen’s emotions without trying to always problem solve. Continuing to teach children to eat nutritious foods, get enough sleep, limit screen time, and get daily physical activity can all positively affect mood.
Remember that a parent’s influence runs deeper than you think. Enjoy time together with your teenager doing simple tasks, such as going for a walk, cooking a meal or watching a movie. Making time to do simple things with your teen will leave the door open for conversations that may be difficult to have and can make more of a difference than you can imagine.
If you or a loved one experiences suicidal thoughts, please contact (free and confidential) Samaritans of Singapore at 1800-221-4444. If you would like to speak to a paediatric doctor with paediatric trained nurses, please contact IMC Paediatric at 6887 4440.
Dr Arti Jaiswal MD (New York, US), Board Cert (Paed) (US) is based at IMC Paediatric located in Camden Medical Centre.