One of the most common problems among parents of adolescents is not knowing whether their teen is depressed or simply experiencing the throes of adolescence. It’s frequently hard to tell whether your child is going through the normal stages of being a teenager or if it’s actually a mental illness.
However, there are some clear signs in order to make this distinction. For instance, if your teenager is not doing well in school, if grades are dropping and there are continued behavioral issues, then there might be a problem. If conflicts among peers are escalating or if arguments at home worsen, then perhaps it's worth exploring whether a mental illness is present. Again, one way to determine whether behavior is normal for adolescence or whether it warrants a diagnosis is if the behavior interrupts your child's functioning at home, school, or work.
However, if you're still undecided and you want to get some answers to be able to tell between the tumultuous stage of adolescence and the presence of mental illness, particularly depression, you might try the following suggestions:
Talk with your teen about your concerns. Xavier Amador is a clinical psychologist, professor at Columbia University, and Director of the LEAP Institute. He is also the author of I Am Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help! How to Help Someone with Mental Illness Accept Treatment. Although your teen may not be resisting depression treatment, he or she might know how to express their feelings. It might be difficult to admit that they feel depressed. Furthermore, some teens are not aware that they are experiencing depression to the point that they might respond with experiencing physical symptoms when asked about whether they feel depressed. They might respond with often having stomachaches or headaches.
Make an appointment to see a psychologist or therapist. Taking your child to a mental health professional is an essential step in ensuring your teen’s psychological health. A therapist and psychologist will likely ask critical questions as well as have your child fill out assessment forms. The answers to both of these will lead to a diagnosis. Then, with an accurate diagnosis, the appropriate treatment plan can be developed. A treatment plan includes the unique needs of your teen as well as the forms of treatment (medication, individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and others) that will best improve his or her level of functioning. It might also take into consideration the needs of the family, the severity of the depression, and your teen’s willingness towards participating in treatment.
Make an appointment with your teen’s physical doctor. There might be a physical reason for your teen’s symptoms. Some of the symptoms of depression, such as lack of concentration, low energy, and sleep disturbance might be the result of a physical disorder. It’s important to assess whether it is a physical or psychological reason behind the symptoms your child is experiencing.
Check your teen’s family medical history. Depression and other mood disorders have a genetic component. It would be important to know whether there are incidences of depression in your family history. This information would be important to take to the therapist or psychologist you take your teen to.
Some of the above suggestions might not be easy to do. Yet, doing so can indeed save your child’s life. Although that might sound dramatic, many parents of teens who have attempted suicide were not aware of their children’s depressed state. Talking to your child how about he or she feels is an important first step. Contacting a mental health professional and a physician are also necessary in ensuring your teen’s psychological and physical health.
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