Uncontrollable bawling, substance abuse and impulsive acts of delinquency are just some of the signs that our teens are experiencing an amount of depression that we aren’t ready to scrutinise as adults. But how do you know when your teen’s out of character behaviour is a sign of depression?
Clinical psychologist and director of Neo-Psych Services, Nomsa Palesa Radebe, says depression has always been a present threat to the mental health of our kids, but the current situation is simply emphasising its severity.
“It is important to note that depression and it’s effects are by no means a new concept. The pandemic brought about new interaction and social engagement, as a result what was already prevalent quickly came into greater awareness. The expression of different kinds of emotional behaviours took place right in front of our eyes while we were stuck under lockdown conditions, but we missed them!”
The common triggers
The most common triggers for depression in teens are centred around stress, where perceived expectations without adequate support are felt.
According to clinical social worker and head of counselling at Wynberg Girls High School, Allison Eakin, there are multiple reasons for depression in teens.
She says genetic history and mental illness in the family can make one more prone to being diagnosed with a depressive disorder. But the most common triggers include (but not limited to):
- Environmental factors such as the breakdown of a family system (absent parent, child-headed households, raising siblings or “busy” parents);
- Abuse or conflict in the home;
- Peer conflict/withdrawal or bullying; and
- A sense of hopelessness about their future and/or academic stress/pressure.
“It is also important to note that many teenagers witness trauma or violence in their homes or communities which could also lead to depression if not addressed,” Eakin says.
She further adds that there is a level of toxicity in the amount of pressure put on teenagers by their parents, and the pressure adds significantly to their depressed state.
“Academic pressure, especially from parents who [ in some cases] live through their children’s successes, is the first toxicity. Remember, not all kids are maths and science stars. Pressure from schools and parents to ‘be good at everything is killing kids,” she adds.
What are the signs?
While Eakin says its normal for teens to be down a couple of days, if you see a significant mood change for more than two weeks, this could mean something more serious is going on.
Radebe reiterates that it is important to watch the dramatic changes in their behaviour, where:
- The child slowly begins to isolate themselves;
- No longer interested in spending time with others;
- Lack of interest in things they used to enjoy (hobbies, sports, academic, etc); and
- Appetite and sleep changes (eating too much, or sleeping a lot/not at all)
It can be extreme
Radebe says self-harm is (in all its forms) the most significant presentation of depressive *symptomatology for all ages.
“This kind of presentation is often accompanied with the more isolating behaviour. A more aggressive disposition is also prevalent with other children, especially younger kids, as they fight to fight with the internal struggles within themselves. Both forms of presentation require an initial step aimed at understanding the changes as experienced by the child, followed by identification of the best intervention plan.”
“We need to seek understanding with the aim to help, and not seek understanding in order to fix so that the needs of the child can be known, and they can feel like they’re a part of the process and not the problem,” Radebe says.
What can we do as a society?
Everything with depression seems to begin and end with everyone around you. Be it in adults or in teens, and as a society we need to gather in spirits and live the mandate of ending the scourge of depression in our society.
Eakin says this we can do by “rebuilding our communities and families. It takes a village to raise a child, but we have become too insulated and inward focused to raise children.”
She advises us to look at encouraging our youth to be involved in productive healthy activities preferably in their schools or communities such as sports clubs, church or religious groups or service orientated organisations such as scouts or rotary.
“Depression makes one wish to isolate and withdraw but engaging in activities (both introverted and extroverted) and being valued and creating mastery in a skill builds self-confidence and self-worth. Ensure our teenagers are surrounded by good role models and take the time to connect with them. We need to become familiar with things that are important to our teens and ask them if they want our response when they come with their problems,” Eakin concludes.
*Health For Mzansi Word of the Day
Symptomatology: The set of symptoms characteristic of a medical condition or exhibited by a patient.