Normal Sadness in Teenagers
Thanks to hormones and other biological developments, teenagers often experience a rush of emotions and the behaviours that come with them throughout these critical developing years.
It is common for teenagers to be labelled as moody or emotionally dysregulated, as they are learning how to work through their negative emotions without as much handholding from parents.
As a result, expression of sadness may seem more common for this age group, but it is increasingly important to monitor — extreme levels of sadness in teens and tweens can have dangerous consequences.
Determine between brief periods of sadness and more serious symptoms of depression by considering the duration and severity of the symptoms.
Just like with children, any behaviour that occurs for less than two weeks and does not seem to affect their overall functioning in school, socializing, or home life is likely a typical period of sadness. Let’s discuss the more typical expressions of sadness for teens:
Tearfulness or crying when sad/disappointed. One example is if a teen girl’s best friend was mad at her and she came home upset and crying about the confrontation.
Negative self-talk or pessimism. Critical, pessimistic statements are common with teens, but they should also be able to identify strengths and personal qualities about themselves at the same time.
Personalization and feelings of guilt about things that aren’t their fault. Teens often are relatively self-conscious and self-focused, so it is common for them to assume that they are more responsible for situations than they actually are.
Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy. This also comes with the territory of growing up — teens often end up moving away from previously enjoyed activities and picking up new interests… and sometimes when a teen is in a particularly sad mood, they may just not want to do the things they currently like.
Being more tired than usual. Again, this is a common symptom for healthy teens. Teens often require more sleep, as their brains are developing quickly during this time and need a lot more time to recuperate and regenerate. Usually, however, this comes in spurts and does not impact their academic, social, or family commitments.
Struggles with staying focused in school and participating well in academic and social environments. While some distraction is normal given the hormone shifts and other things going on in the bodies of teens, minor distractible behaviour shouldn’t interfere with their ability to succeed academically or socially.
Irritability and anger. Talking back, being moody, slamming doors, and being easily irritable is common in teens as they are learning how to appropriately set boundaries in their lives and to regulate their emotions.
Teenage Sadness that May Require Professional Assistance
The following is a list of depressive behaviour that teen’s exhibit that suggests they need professional help to learn how to manage and improve their overall functioning:
Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiousness, or emptiness. Some teens describe feeling “numb” when they are in a constant state of low feelings.
Hopelessness. Feeling like there is nothing that can be done to change the outlook of a teen’s current situation.
Constant irritable/angry mood. This may look like teens “blowing up” without apparent triggers and struggling to manage frustration and anger.
Long patterns of withdrawal from family and friends. Two or more weeks of social withdrawal when this is not accounted for by an anxiety disorder or a history of social isolation could be a sign that a teen is experiencing symptoms of depression.
Continued loss of interest in pleasurable activities. Not simply choosing different activities and no longer liking the ones they did before, but a persistent feeling of not finding pleasure in ANY activity.
Sleeping and eating changes. While both of these things do change a lot during teenage years, a large swing one way or the other (eating/sleeping too much or too little) may suggest that there is something else happening for your teen other than simple growth and development.
Academic problems, grade slips, etc. Poor grades that come out of nowhere are a common sign that a teen is beginning to struggle. Putting less effort into assignments or studying is a sign that your teen may be experiencing symptoms that impact their ability to succeed academically.
Fatigue and persistent loss of energy. Constant feelings of lethargy and depleted energy, even with good sleep.
Restlessness and struggling to focus and stay on task.
Physical complaints: stomach and headaches/pains or other physical symptoms that cannot be ruled out by a physician as a medical concern.
Thoughts of death/dying. Thinking about death and not being alive in a passive way is common with teens who are experiencing depression. Some even begin to have suicidal ideation, or thoughts about wanting to hurt or kill themselves. This is a serious and potentially dangerous symptom. If your child is experiencing thoughts of death or you have reason to believe they may be suicidal, it’s important to get them immediate help.
Risky behaviour. Drug or alcohol use, self-harm (cutting wrists or other body parts, eating disorders, etc.) unprotected sex, risky driving, etc. can all be a teen’s attempt at trying to minimize the pain of sadness or numbness.
If you are noticing or experiencing these symptoms, it is recommended that you seek out assistance from a mental health professional to help improve their ability to cope with their symptoms of depression.
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