When our kids are younger, we do everything we can…
Depression is not uncommon in adolescents. According to the National institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adolescents.shtml), around 11% of teens aged 12 to 17 experience an episode of major depression a year. With such staggering statistics, it is not surprising that a portion of these teens turn to alcohol to cope or even self-medicate.
The difficulty lies in discerning the difference between a teen who may drink to appear social and an adolescent suffering from depression.
Signs & Symptoms
What follows are some suggestions on how to determine if your teen may be showing signs of depression. It is important to note that depression entails a cluster of symptoms, so if your teen is experiencing only one of these signs there may be another reason.
- Hidden bottles of alcohol in his bedroom, especially bottles that are empty or half full. If he offers a somewhat reasonable answer, such as he was holding them for a party, it is important to investigate further. Look over the list that follows and ask yourself if he is showing any other signs that may be consistent with depression. Drinking alone is a big red flag that he is not feeling like himself.
- Suspicion is often based on intuition. No one knows your teen better than you do. If you have even a slight suspicion that your teen may be depressed and drinking it is time to play detective.
- Notable changes in appetite, sleep and/or appearance. If, for example, she has gained or lost a substantial amount of weight in a short period of time. If she no longer seems to care about her appearance (for example, she is wearing dirty clothes and, or not showering as often), this may also be a sign of depression.
- Increasingly isolative. If he is no longer hanging out with his friends and/or the family.
- Irritable, agitated and even angry. It is very common for teens who are depressed to present more as angry, as opposed to sad.
- Decreased or no interest in activities that previously brought much pleasure.
- Academic decline.
How to Respond
The first thing to do if you have concerns that your teen is dealing with depression is to talk with her. Let her know you have noticed these changes and that you are concerned. In addition, it is also helpful to speak to other adults who interact regularly with your teen, such as teachers and coaches. Check in with the parents of her closest friends and ask if the parents can get an impression about your teen’s behavior from their own child. Avoid contacting her friends directly, as this can put an unintended burden on another teen.
Take your teen to a professional counselor to be assessed. Although your teen may resist this, in reality, it is usually a relief for teens to talk with an outside professional about how they are feeling. In addition, it is helpful for a teen to become aware that she is not alone in what she feels, as depression in not uncommon in teens.
Underage drinking is always a concern. Understanding the circumstances certainly makes a difference, especially if consumption is actually a sign of depression.