Is Your Teen Depressed? How to Know and What to Do

What are the signs your teen is depressed? Find out what parents should be aware of, plus get options for help from Dr. Kelly Rogalski with Henry Ford Health System.

The teen years are full of many changes — changing bodies, changing schools and making important choices for the future. A teen’s life is very full and, for some, can become overwhelming.

On top of these typical stressors, the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has had further impact on teens’ mental health.

What can parents and families do to help teens that may experience feelings of depression, or try to cope by abusing drugs?

A closer look at depression in teens

“Depression is a medical illness,” says Kelly Rogalski, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist for Henry Ford Health System. “Teen depression can be triggered by many factors. Common stressors in teens include the demands of school, peer relationships, family life, physical or sexual abuse and, many times, feeling overwhelmed from balancing too busy of a schedule.”

Substance abuse, including marijuana use, can frequently trigger depression. “But there doesn’t always need to be a cause,” Rogalski notes.

Teen depression is common. “20% of teens will experience depression by the age of 18,” Rogalski says. “Approximately 8% of teens are currently experiencing depression.”

She notes that although depression is common, most teens are not getting the treatment they need. “Depression treatments are both safe and effective.”

How to identify possible depression in your child

To identify symptoms of depression in your teen, Rogalski recommends looking for the following possible signs of concern:

  • Less attention to appearance
  • Isolating behaviors
  • Irritability
  • Decline in grades
  • Dropping out of activities once enjoyed
  • Drug use
  • Suicidal thoughts or comments about death
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Frequent physical complaints, like headaches and stomachaches

Any comments a teen makes about death or suicide should be taken seriously. “Depressed teens frequently experience suicidal thoughts with up to 60% having suicidal thoughts,” Rogalski says. Some parents are concerned about bringing up suicide for fear that it will plant the suggestion in their minds, but Rogalski says that’s an unfounded fear.

“It is safe to ask your teen about suicide, and this should be done in a caring, nonjudgmental and straightforward manner,” she says.

What to do when you think your teen is depressed

If you suspect that your teen may suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts or is abusing drugs, contact a mental health professional. Rogalski advises seeking a psychiatrist specifically trained to work with children and adolescents.

“Some treatments differ from adults, and extra training is needed to work with children, but not all psychiatrists have this training,” she says. “Henry Ford Health System has one of the largest teams of board-certified pediatric psychiatrists and pediatric psychotherapists in southeast Michigan.”

Henry Ford Health System’s child and adolescent psychiatric department offers inpatient, outpatient and substance abuse services. Individual, family and parental guidance therapy are available, as well as group therapy for teens and children.

Kingswood Hospital in Ferndale cares for children and teens needing inpatient care. Maplegrove Center in West Bloomfield specializes in substance abuse, and there are additional outpatient clinics throughout metro Detroit.

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