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Top 3 signs that your teenager may be depressed

Given the challenges of being a teen, how can parents tell if their teen is depressed or feeling hopeless?

Today's guest blogger is Lauren Napolitano, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist on staff at Bryn Mawr Hospital and in private practice in Bryn Mawr.

Suicidal ideation is a symptom of major depression. Depression can begin in childhood, but it often worsens in the teenage years. Symptoms of depression include anxiety, irritability, self-loathing, guilt, sleeping too little or sleeping too much, avoidance of social situations, and mood swings.

The life of a teenager is filled with social awkwardness, academic challenges, acne, orthodontics, SAT prep, and growth spurts. Especially in the day of social media where it's all too easy to find out that you were not invited to the latest social event, being a teenager is hard.

So given the challenges of being a teen, how can parents tell if their teen is depressed or hopeless? Here is what I consider the top 3 symptoms of depression in teenagers:

1. Social withdrawal: avoiding friends, turning off cell phone, sleeping all day, not using social media.
2. Over-sleeping or under-sleeping: teenagers have different sleep cycles than adults, but you want to look for excessive napping during the day or insomnia followed by exhaustion.  
3. Irritability: Crankiness, verbal cruelty to family members, and an inability to be soothed either by him/herself or by others.

Depression is a serious issue among teens. If you are concerned about your teenager, it is best to express the concern to your son or daughter directly. If your teen is willing to discuss their concerns with you, it's good to keep an ongoing dialogue about his or her mood.

On the other hand, if your teen sharply denies that he or she is overwhelmed or depressed, you might do better to enlist outside support for your child. Teenagers often struggle to express their emotions to their parents, but will be more open with a therapist or teacher. Call your teen's school psychologist and ask for tips about how to best support your son or daughter. Call your pediatrician and obtain information about how to help a potentially depressed teenager.

The most important thing is to be proactive. Depression is very treatable if started at a young age. Even if your teenager rolls his eyes at the idea of going to therapy, he will learn valuable coping skills for navigating the challenges of life.

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