The signs of depression in teens include changes in weight, changes in sleep patterns, feeling restless or tired, indecision, lack of concentration and forgetfulness, lack of interest in your usual pleasures, and thoughts of suicide or dying.
Getting exercise and enough sleep every day may help. So may eating healthily and spending time outside in nature and in the sun. Without blame, try to steer your teen to maintain a normal weight. There is evidence that obesity and depression are linked in teen girls, perhaps triggered by hormonal changes. The two problems may feed off each other.
The same is true of lack of sleep. Lack of sleep increases the risk of depression, which then can make it harder to sleep, research with teens demonstrated in 2014. Consider keeping cell phones out of the bedroom. In a study of more than a thousand Australian high school students ages 13 to 16, late-night texting or calling was linked to a drop in self-esteem and mood.
Therapy helps too, even if your teen only goes for six to 11 sessions, according to a British study. The researchers tested three kinds of therapy on teens: cognitive behavioral therapy that focused on changing thought patterns, therapy that focused on improving relationships, and simply providing information about depression. They found that all the approaches helped about two-thirds of the patients.
Bucking trends, nudge your teens to do more non-electronic activities, especially with other people — and spend less time in front of a screen. According to Jean Twenge, who researches behavior in generations, 2012 marked an abrupt change in behavior, right when the portion of Americans with a smartphone tipped above 50 percent. Teens now wait longer to date, have sex, and learn to drive, and spend less time outside the house than teens used to. Eighteen-year-olds behave more like 15-year-olds and 15-year-olds more like 13-year-olds, she writes. That’s because they’re spending time alone, in their rooms, communicating with friends through their phones — but feeling lonely. “Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide, such as making a suicide plan. (That’s much more than the risk related to, say, watching TV.)” she writes.
February 27, 2020
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA