How to Spot if Your Teen is Depressed and What to Do About It
By Dick Moore, Teenage Mental Health First Aid Advisor
All of us find life tiresome from time to time, or feel anxious, irritable, tired, distant or sad. Adolescence is a time when our emotions are especially volatile and unpredictable, when the various challenges being faced make achieving a consistently calm state of mind something of a challenge.
Being a parent is not always easy either. Quite often, despite our best intentions, we find our own emotions become tangled with our efforts to offer help and support our children. However, there are ways in which we can undertake an initial assessment.
Here are the most common symptoms of depression:
- Withdrawn from friends and/or family
- No longer enjoying hobbies
- Unable to concentrate
- Tired all the time
- Poor communication
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Lack of motivation
- Neglect of appearance and/or hygiene
Assessing your child’s condition:
Imagine there are 3 boxes …
- The first thing to do is to consider the duration of your child’s low mood. A persistent low mood might involve four or more of the above symptoms existing simultaneously and continuously for a period of two weeks or more. If this is the case…tick the box.
- The second box involves the level of distress afflicting your son or daughter. Are they simply a little fed up or do you sense that they are more profoundly unhappy? This is sometimes difficult to tell, especially if s/he is reluctant to engage and/or keeps their feelings well hidden. But if you sense that s/he is quite deeply unhappy, for a period of two weeks or more…tick the box.
- The final box concerns the extent to which s/he is debilitated by their low mood. If his/her symptoms are such that s/he is unable to live the life they would like or need to lead…tick the box.
If you have ticked all three boxes, it is time to seek professional help.
Where do you go?
The first step will be to your GP. 50% of GPs have little or no mental health training so it is critical to check whether yours is one with an interest in adolescent mental health treatment. Book a double appointment and ask your teenager whether s/he is happy for you to go together. If the answer is no, don’t push it or show bruised feelings. If your child will only visit the doctor on the condition that you are not there, so be it. The doctor will NOT promise confidentiality. It is the doctor’s call. If s/he judges your child to be at risk, s/he will use the information to safeguard your child, whether or not your child agrees. And this may, or may not, involve sharing information with you, the parent. If you do not feel confident in your GP or feel the first session is unproductive, seek the advice of another GP.
A parent can’t force a child go to a doctor once they are 12/13. This becomes a matter of perceived risk. If you perceive there to be a serious risk of serious self-harm/suicide, then your alternative is to call the emergency services.
What might you expect from a positive consultation?
This will depend entirely on your son or daughter’s state of mind, but the key will be the doctor’s ability to engage with someone who might be reluctant to engage.
It is likely that a first GP consultation will result in a ‘watchful waiting’ period designed to collect data and monitor mood. This would be standard practice unless the young person is clearly at imminent risk. A referral to a CAMHS or the private specialist is what you’ll be looking for at this point. Your GP is very unlikely to prescribe medication to a child unless there is a psychiatric overview.
Consult with the school
You will almost certainly wish to consult with your son or daughter’s school. They should have numerous protocols in place which will enable them to monitor, record and report on their experience of your child’s emotional health. They should have in place a policy for recognising and responding to common mental health issues and both your son/daughter and you should be aware of the key pastoral staff responsible for collecting information and taking appropriate action.
There are hundreds of websites which offer information and support. Not all are helpful, but the following sites are recommended:
Further Support (in the UK)
Finally, you may decide to seek help independently, in which case you may find the following information helpful:
The Counselling Directory
Coliseum Riverside Way, Camberley, Surrey, GU15 3YL
Customer Service Team
Telephone: 0844 8030 240
Connecting people with professional support. A free, confidential service whose purpose is to encourage those in distress to seek help; the site also contains a number of sections on emotional disorders and provides some useful statistics.
Association of Child Psychotherapists
120 West Heath Road, London NW3 7TU
Telephone: 0208 458 1609
Holds registers of Child Psychotherapists in your area.
UK Council for Psychotherapy
Edward House (2nd Fl.), 2 Wakley Street, London, EC1V 7LT
Telephone: 0207 014 9977
Holds a national register of chartered psychotherapists
The British Association for Behavioural & Cognitive Psychotherapists
Imperial House, Hornby Street, Bury, BL9 5BN
Telephone: 0161 705 4304
You can contact Dick Moore for any reason: