Teenage Angst, Depression, or Red Flags?

How can you tell the difference between teenage angst and true warning signs (red flags) that something more serious might be going on inside their heads? Depression is a complicated thing and often easy to miss. It’s not always the stereotypical moping and weeping, doom and gloom, “my life has no meaning and is over so don’t bother trying to talk to me” scene. Those suffering from depression can put up a good front.

As parents, when you see something affect your teenager so deeply that they break down, naturally you want to protect them. Sometimes wrapping your arms around them and sheltering them from the bad things in their lives isn’t enough. So what else can you do? First and foremost, absolutely love them … love them absolutely! Make sure they know they can talk to you about anything. Be their safe haven.

There’s another thing you can do, and it’s something that feels uncomfortable to bring up. Ask them if they’d like to talk to a professional. It may feel unnecessary and way too soon, but you just never know! It may or may not help. Teenagers are complicated. I remember being one!Childhood and adolescent depressionIn fact, I remember thinking as a teenager (on more than one occasion) that the world would be a better place without me. You couldn’t get me to travel back in time to those years if you paid me! Uh-uh! No way! The sudden onslaught of hormones and the lack of understanding of … well, anything really is overwhelming.

You see, teenagers (and even young 20-somethings) live in the right now as if life is ending tomorrow. Most can’t comprehend what a moment in their lives means in the grand scheme of things. This explains not only a teenager’s severe reaction to situations but also the other side of those situations – for instance, boys hazing another boy because he’s gay or girls being mean to someone because it makes them feel superior (and because they love the attention it brings). For some, it may be performance driven – the desire to be excellent in all that they do and falling short of that is unacceptable to them. None of them understand or care to give a second thought about the profound and lasting impact their actions (and reactions) have on the rest of their lives.

Teenagers have no idea what obstacles and stresses adults face. What little they’ve experienced so far is all they know. Telling them things like “You think you have problems now…” and “Just wait until you’re an adult” mean absolutely nothing to them. In fact, all that does is minimize the issue and belittle them. Just don’t do it.

In the end, there may not be anything you can do as a parent or a friend or a family member to prevent attempted suicide. I think that if it’s in their head, no amount of therapy or support is going to stop them from trying. Sometimes they can be so good at masking what’s going on inside that nobody sees it.

A few helpful resources:

Suicide Prevention (HelpGuide.org)
How to talk with a depressed teenager
Recognizing teen depression

 Photo credit: Photoforía / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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