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For Parents

It’s normal for adolescents to go through times when they feel low-energy, sad, and irritable. Often, these low feelings are triggered by a disappointing or painful event, such as a break-up, an argument with a friend or member of their family, or the failure to achieve a goal. The fact that the young person is going through enormous physical, emotional, and intellectual changes can intensify their feelings and result in mood swings that are a normal part of growing up. Usually, teens process these feelings and come back to an even keel within a short period of time. 

Sometimes the low feelings don’t go away and may even get worse. If this is the case, the young person may have developed depression, which involves deep feelings of sadness and hopelessness. This can last for weeks or months. The longer and deeper the depression, the more difficult it is to recover and the greater the risk of suffering from depression throughout life. Depression often emerges in the adolescent years and affects one in eight young people.

Signs and symptoms

Fortunately, if depression is treated at an early stage, it is possible for the person to make a complete recovery and go on with their lives in a positive, energetic frame of mind. The key is early identification. Watch for the following signs in your child or your friend, if you think they might be depressed:

  • unhappiness lasts more than two weeks
  • low energy and lack of interest in activities they usually enjoy
  • difficulty concentrating, keeping track of details and making decisions
  • negative, withdrawn, irritable or even hostile
  • not sleeping well or sleeping too much
  • low appetite or overeating
  • complains of aches and pains
  • substance use or abuse

Helping someone

If you notice any of these signs, take it seriously and act quickly. Don’t just wait for the depression to go away on its own. Review the online resources about depression, and learn what services are available in your community. Talk to your teen or friend about what you’ve observed. Encourage them to share their feelings and listen without judging or jumping in. Share what you’ve learned about depression and let them know they’ll feel better if they talk to an expert. If this is your friend, urge them to talk to their parents. 

If this is your child, make an appointment with a family doctor or therapist or contact Mental Health and Addictions Services at the IWK.

For Youth

Being a teenager can be really tough. It’s totally normal to feel sad and irritable at times. For example, you may feel sad over a break-up, an argument with a friend or family member, or be disappointed about not doing well in school. Most of the time, you manage to deal with these feelings and eventually feel better.  If these feelings don’t go away, keep getting worse, or it feels like you can’t handle them anymore, you may be suffering from depression. 

Depression can last for a long time (i.e., weeks, months, or even longer), and involves strong feelings of sadness, irritability, or hopelessness. Depression can drain your energy, motivation and twist your thinking. Depression may make it hard to enjoy things in life. Depression can even cause aches and pains in your body. When you’re depressed, it can feel like you’re all alone and that no one understands. But depression is more common than you think. It can get much better with the right treatment and attention.

Getting Help

If you think you may be depressed, ask other people for help. Don’t wait for depression to go away on its own. Many teenagers find it helpful to share how they are feeling with parents or an adult they trust  (e.g., school counselor, family doctor, telephone helpline). Friends can help too. They listen and are there for you when you need someone to talk to.  Also, ask an adult to make an appointment for you to see a family doctor and a therapist. Treatment for depression might include talk therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Therapy can help people feel less alone and more supported. It helps you deal with negative thoughts and feelings, boost self-esteem and mood and build confidence and tools to deal with life's problems.  

You can also do some other things to help improve your mood. Getting the right amount of sleep, daily exercise and eating healthy foods can really help you feel better. Focusing on positive thoughts and spending time with people that make you feel good about yourself can help, too. Even though you might not feel like doing anything or seeing anyone, try not to isolate yourself and make an effort to do things that you enjoy (e.g., yoga, going for a walk, listening to music, writing in a journal, drawing, etc.). Avoid turning to drugs or alcohol, because these can make depression worse.