Search the Internet for “teen issues” and you’re likely to find articles on teen mental health. It seems there is a relationship between adolescence and the possibility of developing a mental illness. At first glance, the relationship between adolescence and mental illness might seem odd, especially if your own teen years were enjoyable. However, this article will take a deeper look and explore why teens can be at risk for developing a mental illness, specifically depression.
The Many Changes Teens Go Through
One primary reason why teens become vulnerable to depression is because of the physical, emotional, social, and psychological changes they are experiencing. Teens are making their way to adulthood via their physical growth, new interests, desire to explore, and yearning to discover who they are. However, these changes also come with growing pains, rejection by peers, feeling inadequate, and moody. For instance, here are some additional reasons teens may be at risk for emotional instability and depression during adolescence:
Teens may have increased tendency for risk-taking. Teens may have a strong desire to “leave the nest” and to explore the world around them. They might want to spend less time with the family and more time with friends. At the same time, distancing from family might also lead to the family distancing away from them too. In turn, this can create feelings of rejection and shame. However, teens may continue to want to argue with their parents, in an attempt to give voice to their point of view. Teens might also feel angry towards their parents for their parenting, which might feel limiting as they continue to grow and mature.
Teens may have increased emotional intensity. When researchers watched parents and their pre-teens discuss a conflict, they found that most kids got angry. The pre-adolescents that had already started puberty, however, tended to get MUCH angrier than those who had not started puberty. Moodiness can be a normal part of adolescence. The part of the brain that governs emotions is in full swing. It’s growing rapidly while the rational, thinking part of the brain won’t develop until later. For this reason, the responses teens have toward life might be emotional and passionate, an experience that later might be more inhibited once their thinking brain fully develops. At the same time, parents might dismiss signs of depression as moodiness. According to Mental Health America, “Depression can be difficult to diagnose in teens because adults may expect teens to act moody.”
Teens may experience an increased attunement to social status. This happens across cultures, and even species, as the reproductive system matures. Teens will often trade safety for status, taking risks that declare their status within their peer group. In fact, teens might notice that being accepted among friends and positioning themselves socially is incredibly important to them. It might even become more important than family relationships or their need for nurturing from your parents. Yet, this can become problematic for teens who might want to gain social status but end up being rejected by their peers.
While these changes are normal and ordinary for teens going through adolescence, they also put teens at risk for intense feelings and moods. Over time, teens may become more and more vulnerable to depression and other forms of mental illness.
Other Contributors to Mental Illness
In addition to the changes teens go through, there are other factors that might make teen’s vulnerable to emotional instability and depression. These can include:
- too high academic expectations
- past family trauma
- divorce of parents
- terminal illness
- lack of support
- alcoholic family/addiction in the family
- family history of depression or mental illness
- side effects from medication
- possessing an imbalance of brain chemicals
- poor early attachment relationship with parents/caregivers
What Parents Can Do
In some cases, simply being aware that teens are vulnerable to depression can help. In this way, parents can look for signs of depression in their teen. However, more often, parents don’t know what to look for and aren’t aware that their teen may becoming more and more depressed. Below are some helpful suggestions for parents who want to protect their teen from depression:
Look for signs of depression in your teen. Even if you aren’t concerned about your teen, parents may want to review a list of signs of depression in teens. Being aware of these signs can help parents identify if their teen is becoming more vulnerable to depression.
Stay on top of what your teen is doing. If you can stay in touch with your teen’s life, friends, and peer relationships, you can support your teen when you know there may be a challenge. For instance, if a teen is being picked on, parents can help their teen with being assertive and standing up for themselves. Knowing the dynamics of their peer relationships can help parents know their teen’s emotional and social needs, which can play a big role in an adolescent’s mental health. Teens who have emotional support are less likely to have trouble when faced with a challenge.
Teach a teen how to relax. When teens learn to manage stress in healthy ways, they won’t be tempted to drink or use drugs as a way to cope. Instead, when teens have been provided with healthy ways to relieve stress along with opportunities to practice those methods, they are more likely to use them. Furthermore, relaxation can create a psychological state that can invite solutions to stressful situations. In most cases, feeling relaxed can help a teen feel more prepared to face a large amount of homework, chores, and other responsibilities. When teens see their parents modeling those stress-relieving activities, it communicates that it’s important. In this way, teens learn to take care of themselves, which in turn can support their mental health.
Have your teen assessed by a mental health professional. If you have any concerns about your teen’s emotional and psychological well being, it’s better to err on the side of caution. If your teen is experiencing symptoms of depression, a mental health professional can help. And if it turns out that your teen is not experiencing depression, at the very least you’ve developed a relationship in the community should a need arise in the future.
Adolescence may naturally put your teen at risk for depression. However, you can support your teen with the suggestions provided above. Stay involved in your teen’s life, provide them with coping tools, and above all else, let them know that you love and care for them.