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Is Your Teen Depressed or Just Being a Teen?

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Is Your Teen Depressed or Just Being a Teen?

Sep 25, 2015

Your teenager seems to have lost interest in their hobbies and is sleeping a lot—is it depression or just the hormones? Many of the symptoms of depression seem to be how teenagers normally act. So how can you tell if your teen really needs help? Dr. Nathan Bexfield has the answers.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: How do you know if your teenager is just being a mopey teenager or might have depression issues? We're going to find out next on The Scope.

Announcer: Medical news and research from University of Utah physicians and specialists you can use for a happier and healthier life. You're listening to The Scope.

Interviewer: Dr. Nathan Bexfield is at the South Jordan Health Center part of University of Utah Healthcare, and today we're going to give you some tips as a parent how you can figure out if your child might be suffering from depression or maybe if they're just a mopey teenager, and it can be difficult to tell the two things apart sometimes. So give us some insight.

Dr. Bexfield: So yeah, I think every parent of a teenager wonders how motivated they are to actually get out and do things, but depression is kind of on a whole different level. So with depression, obviously they need to be depressed, and being depressed is like not having really much joy in life. A good example of a kid that may have depression is that maybe this kid enjoyed playing soccer at one point, and that was their passion and they loved it and they wanted to do it a lot, but then suddenly they're not even really wanting to play soccer anymore, and you're wondering, "Well, why don't you get out and play with your friends?"

Interviewer: Yeah, not finding joy in things you used to find joy in.

Dr. Bexfield: Right, exactly. Exactly. Another symptom that can be a little more concerning with kids who might have depression is changes in eating habits. They might eat more than they used to or not eat as much as they used to. Also, watching their sleeping habits. So some kids oversleep. A lot of teenagers will oversleep.

Interviewer: Guilty.

Dr. Bexfield: But these kids are sleeping like 18 hours a day, a crazy amount of sleep, or not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep. So those are the things that you want to look at as well. And teenagers, another thing I find that a lot of them do is they get more irritable. Now I know what you're saying. Irritable teenagers, you're probably like, "Well, every teenager is irritable."

I'm talking like out of proportion irritable like you can't really even have a conversation with them without them just blowing up or getting really frustrated and angry, or crying a lot, extreme sadness. So those are some things I often see in kids of this age. I think extreme cases, there are kids that want to hurt themselves or have thought about suicide, which is very sad, especially to think of a teenage boy or a teenage girl who wants to hurt themselves.

Interviewer: Yeah, I've heard if it gets to that point, that you should seek help immediately.

Dr. Bexfield: Definitely.

Interviewer: If there's any indication that suicide's on the table you should go seek help, because it does one of two things. It either gets the child help and the parent help, or it calls the bluff, if it is bluffing, because sometimes that's what it can be. But what are some other things parents can do? If they recognize what they think to be symptoms of depression, should they seek out help right away or is there something parents can do?

Dr. Bexfield: Definitely. If you are worried about depression in your child you should go see your physician, whether that be your pediatrician or your family practice doctor, but go see your doctor, because we can do some simple screening tests and just have a simple conversation with you and the child, and just kind of find out how things are going. And if your child meets the criteria for someone who has depression, then there are certainly lots of things we can do. The big things that we do that I find works the best is starting an appropriate medication and also getting them into some sort of therapy to allow them to talk things out and have coping mechanisms in place. Sometimes that therapy works even better when the whole family is involved.

Interviewer: Medications, do you find that some parents are little hesitant?

Dr. Bexfield: I do, because there's a little bit of stigma that comes with taking medications for depression or any mental health issue. But the actual truth is there are a lot of people that have gotten a lot of benefit from these medications. So I think this is something that actually helps these kids, and I've seen it in my experience.

Interviewer: How often is depression caused by actually a chemical imbalance in the brain versus just what's going on in their life?

Dr. Bexfield: Well, I think it's a combination of both of those things. Certainly genetics plays a factor in it. If there's a family history of depression, then certainly that child may be a little more prone to depression or anxiety or whatever mental health disorders run in the family. Also, the environment plays a factor. What's your home life? What's your life at school? How are people treating you? How are you being perceived as being treated or how are you perceiving others as treating you? That sort of thing. So I think it's more than just a chemical imbalance versus environment. I think all those factors sort of play in, and once it overwhelms them, then they feel like they're drowning and they can't get up.

Interviewer: You've told me that depression is something that you see more and more often, you feel, in your practice at times, and it seems like you're something very passionate about. So what I'm getting at right now is what would be that one message you'd have to a parent if they think that their child is depressed? Even if they're not sure, because that's a scary step to take, right, to say my child might be depressed?

Dr. Bexfield: That one message I would get out is if you're worried at all, come see your doctor. Let's talk about it. The best case scenario, we can tell you, "Hey, you know what, your child is not really depressed and maybe this is something you guys need to talk about, communicate better," sort of a thing like that." Worst-case scenario is if you don't address it something really bad could happen and your child could end up being harmed.

Interviewer: So even if you have an inkling, no action is worse than action?

Dr. Bexfield: That would be my suggestion, yeah.

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