Is This Teen Angst or is it Depression?

The life of a teenager is like trying to drive a car, through a snowstorm with pedestrians you know on the road while attempting to ponder the past and plan for the future. There are high amounts of pressure on teens to handle all of the changes happening in their bodies and minds and somehow have a healthy social and academic life. Although most make it through all this, there are numerous reasons for why teenagers can experience inner turmoil and outer moodiness.

So Many Changes

Teenagers are constantly dealing with their changing bodies, hormones, and emotions. Once they learn how to manage one, another pops up and they may have to start all over. The teen brain is not fully developed while they face these challenges (most current research suggests that brain development continues until around age 25). Teenagers also start to deal with more mature tasks and harder schoolwork to help prepare them for entry into the real world which adds  a ton of additional stress. There are different social experiences or lacks of experiences that may also affect how the teen mood changes or how they react to certain situations. All of these changes can result in a lot of teen moodiness, which is expected, but many teens also experience depression as well. Angst is normal for the teenage season of life. Depression is NOT. Some inner turmoil and stress cannot be avoided, but depression CAN be treated.

What to Look For

Depression in teens may not always be identified right away because it usually presents differently than in adults. Many parents are uncertain whether they should be concerned and intervene in some way, or whether it is “just a phase” to grow through. There are some signs to look for if you are concerned about whether or not your teen is actually depressed and may need to seek help. Teens with depression or anxiety may express:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability & Anger
  • Excessive Crying Spells
  • Extreme guilt
  • Low self esteem or Perfectionism
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Difficulty Sleeping or Insomnia
  • Issues Concentrating
  • Self Isolation
  • Stomachaches, Headaches, or Muscle Pains
  • Changes in Eating Habits
  • Significant Changes in Body Weight or Appearance
  • Suicidal Thoughts or Comments

What to Do Next

Now that you know the signs, you may be wondering what to do next. One of the most important ways to determine if you are dealing with normal angst or depression is to talk to your teenager.

Not every parent- child relationship has the same level of openness and honesty, but this can be an important step in helping your child know that you are aware and care about their struggles. Talk to them about some of the signs you have noticed and see if there have been any major changes at school or in their social life.

For those who don’t want to talk or may need additional guidance, there are school counselors at most schools that are trained to talk to teenagers and there professional counselors in the community like at Threads of Hope Counseling that can help to assess your child and make recommendations. Keep in mind: There’s nothing wrong with meeting with a counselor to talk through life stress even if a deeper depression is not present. The teen years are not near so difficult if you don’t try to face them alone.

June 2020, Amelia Forsmo, Administrative Volunteer

Source: Brody, J. E. (2002). Adolescent Angst or a Deeper Disorder? Tips for Spotting Serious Symptoms. New York Times.