If you asked adults if they’d like to be teenagers again, you might have a few people say yes. The vast majority of people would likely say no, though, and for good reason. The teen years are filled with emotional distress, changing hormones, brain development, learning how to be independent and difficulty in relationships.
Being a teenager is hard, and being the parent of a teenager comes with challenges, too. Raising a child into a well-adjusted adult amidst the craziness of adolescence is a major feat, but it surely comes with roadblocks along the way. One of the biggest roadblocks—moodiness.
Mood swings are common in teens, but parents may wonder if their child is struggling more than “normal” with dramatically shifting emotions, or if it’s the result of something more serious.
In this article we’ll answer your burning questions, like “is this a mood swing or a mental health disorder?” and “can depression cause mood swings?” Here’s what you’ll want to know to best take care of your teen.
Depression and mood swings
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 4.4 percent of children between the ages of 3-and-17 have a diagnosed depressive disorder. That number increases when older adolescents are observed. Those between the ages of 12 and 17 reported having a major depressive episode within the past year.
Sadly, depression has become increasingly common among youth in recent decades, leading many parents to wonder whether their own child is struggling with depression. While there is a clear distinction between moodiness which is a hallmark of the teen years and clinical depression, there are some overlapping symptoms.
In fact, a parent may come to realize that his or her child is facing depression due to the nature of mood swings that occur, their frequency and the symptoms that accompany them.
Teenage depression symptoms
Clinical depression is similar in teens and adults, however, the disorder may manifest itself in unique ways for each age group. Teen depression is characterized by extreme and persistent sadness and causes a lack of interest in activities that were formerly enjoyable.
Clinical depression in teens can be observed in the following symptoms.
- Crying frequently
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Feeling annoyed
- Struggling to regulate emotions in response to events that seem small or insignificant
- Poor self-esteem
- Feeling ashamed or guilty
- Intense focus on past mistakes
- Fixation on changing personality, appearance, etc
- Having few positive things to say about oneself
- Having frequent conflicts with family and friends
- Sensitive to criticism
- Needed excessive reassurance
- Having trouble concentrating
- Poor decision making
- Risk-taking behaviors
- Thoughts of suicide
- Poor outlook on the future
- Trouble with memory
Teens who face depression may appear to be moody, but when depression is left untreated the consequences are severe. If you’re unsure whether depression is causing mood swings in your teen, it’s in your best interest to get a professional opinion.
The difference between depression and mood swings
Even once a parent understands the symptoms of depression, it can be challenging to clarify whether depression, mood swings or both are at play. Here are a few key things to look for:
Depression causes functional interference in daily life
Functional interference means normal tasks become impossible. For example, hopelessness may prevent your teen from doing homework and the urge to withdraw could result in dropping out of sports or skipping school. Mood swings may make life difficult, but your teen will still have an interest in keeping up with school work or spending time with friends.
Depression shifts priorities
Every healthy teen has interests. A teen who struggles with depression will appear to have a general sense of apathy towards the world and rarely get excited. A teen who is only facing mood swings will still react with joy if you buy her concert tickets or take her to see a movie, for example.
Depression is persistent
A teen with depression will feel that the sadness is uncontrollable. While teens can easily feel overwhelmed by emotions, a teen who struggles to regulate emotions will still have periods of reprieve and happiness.
Depression doesn’t always have a clear trigger
Depression may not present with a clear reason or source for the extreme sadness. Because depression is a result of an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, clinical depression often appears to have no source. Mood swings, however, can typically be traced back to a trigger (whether it’s a thought, a bully, a disagreement, etc). A teen may not confide in a parent for the origin of a mood swing, making it harder to determine.
Treatment for teenage depression
Adolescent depression affects emotional, social and physical development. Treatment for teenage depression can reverse the negative aftermath and get your child back on track to be a healthy, well-adjusted adult with hope for the future.
A combination of medications and psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is the most effective treatment for adolescent depression. Medication helps treat symptoms of depression by balancing neurotransmitters in the brain that affect mood and emotion.
Therapy addresses the underlying causes of depression and helps the teen identify unhealthy thought and behavior patterns and replace these with healthier ways of thinking and behaving. It also helps the teen develop essential coping skills for handling anxiety, stress, social problems and other common triggers for depression.
The earlier depression is treated, the better. Getting help for depression will not only successfully treat it, but it can also help it from returning later on. Teens will learn essential skills that will help them enjoy a higher level of self-awareness, a better quality of life and a keener sense of well-being.
If you believe your child is struggling with depression, contact The Light Program for an evaluation today.