When people mean "signs of teenage depression", I feel that they want to know what particular points or signs they should look for so that they can ascertain the presence or absence of teenage depression. From medical point of view signs and symptoms of teenage depression would be two different things.
Signs means the findings which a physician/psychiatrist would find in the patient after examination.
Symptoms means the problems which the patient tells to the doctor. Non-clinicians may use the terms signs of teenage depression and symptoms of teenage depression interchangeably, when they want to refer to the changes in a person which would point towards teenage depression.
If you are a teenager yourself or you are reading this for your children, I will be explaining the signs or symptoms in detail and if you find them please consult your physician because the consequences can be life threatening.
The common signs of teenage depression with there explanation are as follows.
Depressed mood or Irritable behavior - The depression in teenagers and children usually manifests itself in the form of irritable behavior rather than depressed mood because they do not have the full cognitive and emotional development. They are unable to fully differentiate these feelings, however some percentage of adolescents experience depressed and low mood as well.
A teenager having irritable behavior will be annoyed by things and people around him or her most of the time. The depressed teen will have frequent mood swings, having fights with peer over minor things and negative thinking.
This change in behavior is due to the psychological stress the teen is undergoing. The depressed teenager is ironically not depressed rather irritated. This is an important sign to pick and understand. Unlike adults, the teenagers do not have a sad or low mood when depressed. They rather are irritated, becoming angry easily, having fights, argumentative and moody behavior.
There are certain other signs of teenage depression which you need to look for carefully in teenagers. The depressed teen will think that the attitude of his family members, friends and relatives is uncaring and they are not bothered by his or her problems.
They will have feeling of hopelessness and would believe that whatever going on around them is unfair. Moreover they think that they are of no use to the society. Teenagers having depression have these problems most of the times and not all the times. They get cheered up as well momentarily when they are in pleasurable company.
Decrease in pleasure - In psychiatry it is known as " Anhedonia" which means the inability to become happy in conditions which would normally be enjoyable. The activities and hobbies which used to be interesting and fun now seem less interesting and attractive to the teen. They complain that they are bored most of the time. If the teens are sexually active, there would be decreased interest in sex and sexual drive (libido).
Weight and appetite changes - There may be an increase or decrease in appetite which would result in weight gain or weight loss. Changes in weight are quite peculiar to depression. However the changes in appetite are not that often in teenagers as in adults.
Some depressed teens may develop craving for eating some particular food (high carbohydrate food, Bing eating) and thus the resultant weight changes are enormous.
Sleep problems - problems regarding sleep are another indicator of teenage depression. They often complain that their sleep is non-refreshing and they find it extremely difficult to get out of the bed in the morning. Changes in sleep pattern may vary from person to person.
Some may find it difficult falling sleep while others may wake up in the mid-night. There are still others who have increased sleeping hours and few may totally get a reversal of sleeping pattern i.e sleeping in the day! Changes in sleep pattern is one of the common signs present in depressed teenagers.
Mental slowness or over activity - Another common sign is mental slowness. In technical terms it will be known as Psycho-motor retardation. The teen becomes slow in speech and response than his or her normal routine and it can be easily picked up the people around. Some on the other hand become overactive like excessive talking, agitated behavior, difficulty in sitting at one place for a while. In some teenagers these both conditions may alternate.
Lack of Energy - The teenagers may feel tired throughout the day. They may feel it difficult to perform the daily work with zeal and energy. They would feeling like resting throughout the day. Parents need to understand this thing because they may attribute this to bad attitude and ways of avoiding responsibility. This can further aggravate the conflict between the teen and the parents.
Feeling of Guilt - The depressed teens develop negative self perception about them selves and feeling of worthlessness and guilt start developing in them. It is extremely difficult to directly evaluate this aspect because the teen do not express their views on their negative perceptions.
However there are certain points and actions which will give you a clue about it. They would feel themselves responsible for the bad things happening around them even though it was not their fault. They would try to avoid doing things because they have fear of failure. They develop low self esteem and to cover that they would lie about their success. They would believe that they may be punished for the things they were not responsible for.
Lack of concentration - The teenagers having a depressive episode develop lack of concentration and difficulty in making decisions. Their performance at school is affected. Feedback from school is essential in evaluating the teens. They would take more time in completing their homework than before.
Suicide - The most dreadful consequence of depression. The teenagers will have repetitive thoughts of killing themselves. They come to a point that they feel death is the only escape they have. They will feel that the life is not worth living anymore. They may give a clue to the parents, friends and relatives before committing suicide. Any hint regarding self harm should be taken very seriously.
These were some of the common signs of teenage depression which can guide you at the right time towards the identification of the disease before it is too late. Teenagers and parents should look for these signs of teenage depression and if they find any should seek medical consultation immediately.
Sadock, Benjamin James; Sadock, Virginia Alcott. Title: Kaplan & Sadock's Synopsis of Psychiatry: Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry, 10th Edition
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Publication " Men and Depression".