Depression During the Holidays – Common Signs to Look For in Teens
Depression and mental health challenges related to depressive disorders have grown in prevalence among American teens in recent years. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, as many as 13% of US teens between the ages of 12 and 17 reported experiencing at least one episode of major depression in the previous year. This number represented a 5% increase from reports released 10 years prior.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health report suggests up to 20% of teen girls and 7% of teen boys experience major depression in the last twelve months. Between 2007 and 2017 (the timeframe between large-scale national surveys), the rate of teen depression increased by 59% overall. The growth rate for teen girls was faster than for boys at 66% and 44%, respectively.
What Does Depression Look Like in Teens?
Behavioral changes and mood swings are not uncommon occurrences for teens. As early adolescence gives way to puberty and the hormonal changes that occur during one’s teens, parents are likely to notice various changes in their child. Mood swings -sometimes significant and sudden- occur with greater frequency. Children who were once chatty and social may become distant and withdrawn. Voluntary isolation and a reduced desire to spend time socializing with family and siblings develop. Sometimes angry and hostile outbursts occur out of the blue.
As frustrating as these behaviors may be, many are common and expected teen behaviors. But, symptoms of sadness and worry that occur during puberty also ebb and flow. Typically, teen unhappiness related to puberty or other teen challenges will resolve (at least for a while) within a few days to a couple of weeks. If your teen’s sadness and low mood persist for more than two weeks and is accompanied by other depression symptoms, it is important to reach out for professional help at a program like ours at Hillcrest.
Often, teen depression involves a notable change in your teen’s thoughts and behaviors. The most common symptom of teen depression is persistent sadness with no known cause. Your teen may become abnormally isolated, withdrawn and seem to go out of their way to avoid being around others. You may also notice significant changes to their sleeping and eating habits. Some teens manage depression by engaging in risky or even criminal behaviors such as drinking and driving, using drugs, or stealing.
Remember that the symptoms of depression in adolescents and teens may present differently than in adults. But, like adults, teens can experience depression at any time of the year, including depression related to the holiday season. Although your child may not show all of the below signs of depression, the list below provides examples of what to watch for.
- Problems with concentration and decision making
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Body aches and pains
- Irresponsible or rebellious behavior
- Excessive guilt
- Appetite and weight changes
- Sudden changes in academic performance
- Feelings of helplessness or sadness
- Crying for no apparent reason
- Problems with sleep
- Use of alcohol, drugs, or engaging in promiscuous activity
Does Holiday Depression Look Different?
The holidays can present challenges for everyone, regardless of age. For teens with existing mental health challenges, especially stress and anxiety conditions, the holidays can worsen their symptoms, leading to significant depression during what is otherwise a celebratory time of year. When one approaches their teenage years, they have various obligations to family and friends. Although their responsibilities may differ from those of adults, they still feel responsible for attending social gatherings, purchasing presents, and being part of various holiday activities.
During this time of year, your teen may also experience added pressures at school. The arrival of the holidays also signals the approaching vacation time for virtually all academic age groups. This also means final exams, midterm projects, research papers, and other obligations that they must address before vacation starts or the academic period ends. As a result, your teen’s typical workload may be higher than average leading to additional stress. If your teen has a job, they may also experience additional pressures during the holiday season related to work expectations.
Although some teens can manage additional stress, others may experience greater difficulty managing the added weight put upon them. Some may experience short-term holiday sadness, while others experience a full-blown depressive episode. As a parent, knowing what to look for during the holidays is crucial to ensure you can protect your teen and their mental health while still helping them get the most out of time spent with family and loved ones.
Holiday depression does not “look” different than depression in your teen at any other time of year. Many of the same symptoms will still occur. Therefore, if you notice that your teen is acting differently or any of the above-listed symptoms are present as the holidays approach, it may be beneficial to seek help from a professional treatment program like ours at Hillcrest. Because teen behavior can vary dramatically and sometimes from day to day, it can indeed be difficult for parents to determine if their child’s behavior is suggestive of a mental health concern or a temporary case of the blues for a different reason.
If your teen has any of the above symptoms or another symptom of depression that persists for longer than two weeks, consider making an appointment with their primary care provider. Someone who has worked with your teen for many years, and likely an individual they trust, could talk to them about their symptoms and develop a better understanding of the root causes behind their emotions. A primary care provider can also conduct an assessment to rule out any underlying medical or mental health challenges that may mimic depression in teens. Depending on the results of their evaluation, they may recommend contacting a mental health provider to arrange a mental health evaluation.
Communication is Crucial to Emotional Health
One of the best ways to get answers to your questions is to ask. The same goes for addressing concerns about your teen’s emotional health. Unfortunately, your teen may not understand their symptoms either, so asking whether they are “depressed” may not be beneficial. However, it may help to ask them how they are feeling. You may also ask what types of support could make them feel better, what they need to heal their emotions, or how you can intervene to make their stress and anxiety more manageable.
Depending on their age, many teens are steadfastly independent. Although they may know they are feeling depressed, stressed, or anxious, they are hesitant to reach out for help. There are various reasons for this, but some of the most common include feeling embarrassment or shame about asking for help and the misguided belief that they should be able to handle their emotions independently of parental or adult support. In other cases, they may not want to upset you by disclosing the source of their depression because they believe you may be unable to understand or do not think you can help.
As a result, a teen experiencing depression may internalize their emotions, only leading to worsening emotional health and overall well-being. You could start the conversation by letting your teen know they are not alone. Many people, in fact, millions of people across the nation, experience depression each day, and there is no reason to feel shame, guilt, or worry about their feelings. Let them know that you’ve noticed a change in their mood and that you want to help and are there to talk to you when they’re ready.
Listen to what they have to say, even if what you hear is concerning, upsetting, or (in the eyes of an adult) trivial. Remember that certain experiences as a teen are far more upsetting than they might be to an adult. Even if you don’t understand or their concerns seem insignificant, their worries are weighing heavily on their emotions, and encouraging them to communicate openly is the first step towards getting them the help they need to recover.
Knowing When and How to Seek Help
There may be certain things you can do as a parent to help your teen improve their mental health in the short term. For example, if they are anxious about an upcoming math exam, you may offer to get them extra help or set time aside in your day to help them study. If the upcoming holiday season is creating excess stress, work with your teen to create a schedule to prioritize their obligations. You may also offer to help them wrap presents or include them in preparing holiday meals.
If your teen has depression, there may not be a simple or quick fix. In that case, reaching out to a professional therapy program like ours at Hillcrest may be the best first step. As part of a treatment program designed around your teen’s symptoms and treatment needs, our skilled and experienced therapy providers will work closely with them to help them understand their feelings and develop coping tools they can use when faced with triggers in the future. Depending on your child’s specific needs, certain antidepressant medications may also be beneficial during the first days of treatment to help stabilize their symptoms so they can actively engage in therapy sessions.
Many different therapy models can benefit depression in teens. The ideal model for your child will depend on their specific needs and goals as they begin therapy. Remind your teen it is OK to reach out for help when needed. Sometimes, talking to somebody outside the family or outside of one’s circle of friends is more beneficial than trying to communicate with family and loved ones about mental health symptoms. This is especially true if those family members and loved ones are closely related to one’s mental health challenges.
Suppose you would like to learn more about teen depression treatment in California and how our teen-focused therapy programs at Hillcrest can help your teen during the holidays or throughout the year. In that case, our admissions team is here to help. Please call us today to learn more.