By Jessica Getty
Posted in Mental Health Resources
Part one of our series on Teenage Depression discussed some of the ways that teens may show symptoms of depression. In this piece, we aim to expand on some of the ways that these symptoms could be impacting your teen’s life in the realms of school, home, and friendships. Depression can evolve in a cycle, with situational factors causing negative emotions or behaviors, which then often lead to more stressful situations. In this way, it can be difficult to distinguish whether a specific feeling or situation happened first. Identifying any point in the cycle can be the first step in breaking negative patterns.
Difficulty focusing: One common feature of depression is the tendency to have ruminating thoughts. This means that a person can unintentionally become stuck in patterns of thinking that become overwhelming. These thoughts can then become distracting and cause the person to not be able to give attention to what is going on in the present moment. Ruminating is often accompanied by worry and stress around not knowing how to “fix” a perceived problem. If a teen is stuck ruminating in their thoughts, they may find it difficult to focus on what is being taught in the classroom. They may appear as if they are daydreaming or otherwise “checked out”, and unable to complete tasks.
Falling asleep in class: Depression can influence sleep habits, causing either too much or too little sleep. Teens can experience difficulty with falling and staying asleep at night and therefore be overtired in the morning. Depression can also lead to overall feelings of decreased energy, both mentally and physically. A lack of energy makes it difficult to pay attention, and therefore a person may become disengaged and their need to rest takes priority.
Missing assignments: There are a few different ways in which depression symptoms may interfere with a student’s ability to complete and submit homework assignments. One consideration is that your teen may find the homework too challenging, and feel insecure about needing to ask for help. A negative self-perception may contribute to the student feeling that they should be able to do it on their own, and lead to them feeling defeated when they are not able to. Another consideration is that other situational factors are becoming overwhelming to your teen and therefore they find it difficult to give the same attention and energy to their homework that they used to.
School avoidance: Not being able to, or not wanting to, get up for school in the morning can possibly be the result of many things related to depression. One possibility is that it is a function of a poor sleep cycle, as described above. Another reason may be that there are social factors at play that your teen does not want to engage in. Sometimes avoiding school is an attempt to avoid difficult peer situations, such as an argument with a friend or being bullied. In this way, the person is attempting to handle a difficult situation in the best way that they know how. Even if it is having other negative consequences, missing school is still solving a problem for them in the moment.
A change to preferring time alone: People in general have different set points for how much social interaction they prefer. It is not necessarily problematic for anyone to want to spend time alone to recharge or to do independent activities. What matters most is if someone suddenly prefers to spend time alone, and this represents a significant change in their behavior. A person who is feeling depressed may not have the energy to socialize with others, or they may feel so isolated in their experience that they have difficulty relating to others right now. It is important for everyone to feel supported and connected to others in a meaningful way. This is especially true if they are experiencing depression.
Becoming easily annoyed or “set off”: One of the main differences in the presentation of depression between teens and adults is that teens more often display high levels of irritability. The symptoms of depression can be both physically and emotionally exhausting. While some may become disengaged and appear defeated by their thoughts and feelings, others appear to have a sensitive emotional switch. Often becoming easily angered is a sign that the person already has a high-stress level and then something happens that makes it just too much to handle. This is why sometimes a seemingly neutral comment or question can elicit emotional fireworks.
Arguing with family members: This can be the next step in a situation where your teen has become “set off” by something. Sometimes there can be difficult or stressful family dynamics that your teen is upset or worried about, and the way that they express it can be through anger. Other times it may be that situations outside of the family are causing your teen distress, but it comes out through communications with family members. It may be that they have been carrying negative feelings with them throughout their day, and seem to release their frustrations when they get home.
Spending less time with friends: There are several reasons behind how depression can influence a teen to spend less time with their friends. It may be that peer conflicts are underlying some of the distress that your teen is feeling, which leads them to distance themselves from others. It may also be that although they want to be able to spend time with their friends, they are too encumbered by their thoughts and feelings to be able to connect with them.
Engaging in risk-taking behaviors: Risk behaviors are any actions that have the potential to cause harm to someone. In the context of depression, some risk behaviors may include substance use, reckless driving, or self-injury. Risk-taking behaviors can be the function of an attempt at coping, or an attempt at sensation seeking. Sometimes risk-taking can be a way that teens try to alleviate their negative symptoms of depression. Even though such behaviors may lead to more negative outcomes, it may seem like the only way they can feel better in the moment. In this way, risk behaviors can decrease high levels of emotion. On the other hand, risk-taking may be used to increase levels of emotion. In the case that a person is experiencing emotional numbing associated with depression, risk behaviors can be an attempt to feel a rush of emotion.
Seemingly sudden changes in relationships: One of the many significant changes that happen as kids get older is that they develop an increased awareness around their social interactions. They also become more able to actively choose who they hang out with and why. This often results in a process of teens trying out different roles and practicing expressing themselves in different ways. These types of changes are normal and can be beneficial for their personal growth. Unfortunately, this process can also be quite stressful. Not fitting in with a friend or group can lead to feelings of rejection and a loss of self-esteem. As teens are at the prime age for developing their personal and social identities, they give peer approval a heightened sense of importance. Significant changes in their feelings of belonging (or not belonging) with others can lead to the development of symptoms of depression.