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  • Judith Pearmain

Is My Teenager Depressed?

We all worry about our children, their journey can be hard to witness in normal times, but over the last two years teenagers have had the disruption of a pandemic to deal with which has impacted them in different ways.

But when should everyday worries become a concern for their mental health?

These are some common signs of depression to be aware of:

Mood changes: angry outbursts, aggressiveness, irritability, sadness, bouts of crying.

Withdrawal: from family and friends, becoming secretive, having no interest in activities they previously enjoyed.

Changes in appetite: eating too little, binging, obsessing over specific foods.

Personal Hygiene: unkempt appearance, they stop brushing their teeth and washing their hair.

Lack of energy: Teens need 8-10 hours of sleep a night. Be aware of insomnia or excessive sleeping.

Schoolwork: if your child’s schoolwork has deteriorated check with the teacher if they know why.

Physical ailments: unexplained chronic headaches, nausea, stomach aches, other muscular aches.

Self-harm: wearing long sleeves or more conservative clothing when they haven’t before, have unexplained bruises or missing patches of hair and become defensive when you ask about it?

Self-medicating: lowered inhibitions, slurred speech, reduced co-ordination and poor concentration.

Expressions of hopelessness or worthlessness.

Talking about death: writing poems or stories about death, giving away valued possessions, engaging in reckless behaviour.

So how can you help? Open up communication with you teenager:

  • A talk over the table can feel like an interrogation. Instead, talk whilst in the car or doing an activity as they tend to open up more when they don’t have to look at you.

  • Do not judge them, let them speak, be gentle and show them respect. Start by assuming they have a good reason for doing what they do.

  • Don’t assume you know what’s wrong and use open questions to be curious; “I’m wondering what’s going on.”, is likely to elicit more of a response than “Are you being bullied?”.

  • Help them think critically about what they see and hear and help them think about ways they can respond and cope.

  • Pick your battles. If they feel you are constantly nagging them, they will stop listening.

  • Try not to react to angry outbursts. Teenagers often hit out at the people they trust and love the most, not because they hate you but because they are confused, angry, upset, lost or hormonal and they do not know how to express what they are feeling.

  • If they won’t talk to you, send a text or email to remind them that you love them and ask them if they are ok. Can they talk to someone else, e.g. teacher, relative, family friend, counsellor, sports coach.

  • If you are concerned, ask your child directly whether they are thinking about suicide, using the word ‘suicide’ yourself. This lets them know that it’s ok to talk about it, that you want them to tell you, and that you are someone they can talk to. Go to for more information on how to start this conversation.

On-line support and helplines for teens:

  • Ask your child to download the Kooth app, it’s an anonymous community where they can get support for their mental health.

  • Ask your child to put a 24/7 free support line number in their contacts; Childline 0800 1111 or The Samaritans 116 123, or they can text SHOUT to 85258.

Ask for help:

  • Speak to your child’s teacher and harness the support of their school.

  • Speak to their GP, they can refer your child to specialist services or may suggest medication.

  • Young Minds,, they have a helpline, webchat and email service to support parents and lots of information about children’s mental health.

  • Remember you need support too as it can feel very lonely when you are worried about your child. Talk to your GP, a counsellor like us or family and friends.

If you are feeling uneasy and your instincts are telling you something is wrong, Call the NHS Emergency Mental Health Line 0800 028 8000, available 24/7.

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