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Seeing the Signs: Here’s How to Recognize If YOUR Teen Is Depressed

By Debby Shulman

This week marks the anniversary of the suicide of a beloved boy from my hometown. It sadly marked the second suicide that our community suffered in just a two-week period last summer. Only a few weeks after, another wonderful boy was killed in a horrible car accident while vacationing in Wisconsin. Later in February, another seemingly joyful junior at our high school also took his own life. Our children were shattered, beaten down, and destroyed. Our schools were aggressively addressing teenage depression with the support of local area clergy. At the time, GIRLilla Warfare editor, Lisa Barr, and I discussed the possibility of a column regarding these heartbreaking events … but we couldn’t do it. It felt too raw and it simply weighed too much. Even as adults, we found the experience to be so sad, so depressing and so unexplainable, there were no words to print that would make sense.  More importantly, it did not feel like it was our story to tell.

So we let it go.

After some time, however, the idea to open the door for some good conversation came back to us.

One of  GIRLilla Warfare’s missions is to discuss the hard stuff – so why were we hiding behind our sadness?

Perhaps it was too emotional to write about, but the issue stayed with us. It would ALWAYS be too hard to write about, so I waited until I had a quiet house and decided to open the door on some critical discussion on the nature of teens and depression.

As a parent and a teacher, I feel a duty to know what to look for, to be aware of subtle changes in my students and children, and to communicate those concerns immediately.  What happened in our little town was devastating and parents and teens in our community would agree – it has affected everyone in some capacity, and for many will remain a permanent crack in their emotional foundation.

 We all know the feeling of suspecting that something is just not right with our kids. I have experienced many sleepless nights worrying about the emotional well-being of one of my teenagers.

It is something I know each and every one of my friends has also gone through and yet, we all wonder: When is it time to do something about it? After all, part of adolescence is the mood swings, the spontaneous emotional eruptions and the long hours spent in their bedroom. I have asked myself many times: Is this normal? 

What does normal look like in a teen anyway?  The answer is, we don’t know.

Mood disorders, depression and bipolar disorders are challenging to properly diagnose, and that is not to assume that just because you have a teen struggling that they are defined with any of the above. However, if you feel that in your heart that something is “going on” other than what seems to be “normal teenage angst” —  then have the courage to reach out and find help.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with other reputable websites, offer guidelines to follow when you suspect your teen needs additional assistance in managing depression.

In honor of Rebecca Cutler, and the organization, “Rebecca’s Dream” — GIRLilla Warfare is promoting the following guidelines to help our readers and their children work through issues we all must face together:

Emotional Changes: Be alert for emotional changes, such as:

– Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason

– Irritability, frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters

– Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities

– Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends

– Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism

– Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance

– Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things

– Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak

– Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide

Behavioral Changes: Watch for changes in behavior, such as:

– Tiredness and loss of energy

– Insomnia or sleeping too much

– Changes in appetite, such as decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain

– Use of alcohol or drugs

– Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still

– Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements

– Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches, which may include frequent visits to the school nurse

– Poor school performance or frequent absences from school

– Neglected appearance — such as mismatched clothes and unkempt hair

– Disruptive or risky behavior

– Self-harm, such as cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing.

Most importantly, if you suspect your child is struggling with depression and moodiness you feel is unusual, or displays some of the behaviors described above, please reach out to your pediatrician or seek out a therapist to begin the process of working together to overcome the debilitating disease of depression.

Lisa Barr, Editor of GIRLilla Warfare: Debby Shulman is a college essay consultant and academic tutor with a private practice in Northbrook, Illinois.  She also professionally collaborates with Amy Simon College Consulting in Bannockburn, Illinois.  Debby also blogs about Motherhood/Teen issues for Your Teen magazine (www.yourteenmag.com). Check out her valuable advice. 

** REBECCA’S DREAM  was established in 2005 to celebrate the life of journalist Rebecca Cutler. Its mission is to help those affected by bipolar disorder and depression so that they are NOT misdiagnosed but treated with appropriate therapy and guidance. Beginning Friday evening, July 19 and on Saturday, July 20, The Shed, located in Highland Park, Illinois, will be hosting, “ShedFest 2013” benefiting Rebecca’s Dream.  For two days, The Shed will offer an incredible array of blues artists and musicians, focusing on “Shedding the Blues Away.”  GIRLilla Warfare is proud to be a sponsor of this incredibly meaningful event. For more information, go to www.rebeccasdream.org or www.theshed1480.com.


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