Q: How do I know if my child is depressed or just going through normal teen behavior?

A: Behavior for teenagers can be anything but normal. Between mood swings, melancholy and the need to distance from parents, it is difficult to differentiate between depression and normal teen behavior.

Teenagers who are depressed do not always act sad. Sometimes depression appears as anger, irritability, risk-taking behavior or rage. Here are some signs that could indicate your child may be suffering from depression:

  • change in sleep patterns, eating habits or grades;
  • withdrawal from friends or family;
  • lack of interests;
  • frequent crying;
  • lack of energy;
  • difficulty concentrating; or
  • thoughts of suicide.

If your child experiences these behaviors consistently, you should seek outside help. Calling your family doctor for an appointment or 211, a referral and information line that connects people with important community services, can be a first step. Your doctor or mental health professionals will want to know what behaviors your child had shown and for how long in order to guide you to the next appropriate step.

If you suspect your child is depressed, here are some helpful tips about talking to teenagers:

  • Let your children know that you are worried about them and you want to support them. Be there for them.
  • Many teenagers don’t want to talk about their depression. Don’t ask a lot of questions and force them to talk. If you push too hard they will pull back even farther.
  • When your children want to talk, be available and listen. Passing judgments or lecturing them will make them stop talking so allow them to talk freely. Acknowledging their pain is what they need from you.

In a crisis situation in which you fear for your child’s life, you can get immediate help by calling the police or going to the emergency room.