Rabbi Azriel Hauptman
The teenage years are difficult ones for both teens and parents. The teenagers are grappling with
finding their identity in this no man’s land between childhood and adulthood. Their bodies and
minds are changing which can lead to a very confusing period in their lives. The parents are
pulling their hair out trying to figure out how to process their child’s occasional moodiness and
defiant behavior. There is an adage, “Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages
of twelve and seventeen, a parent ages as much as twenty years!”
Believe it or not, adolescence is not a mental illness! Just because your teen’s behavior is
mystifying does not mean that they are suffering from something abnormal. Sometimes,
however, they are suffering from a genuine bout of depression. In such a situation, you cannot
afford the risk of letting depression run its course.
Just to make it a little more confusing, the signs of depression in teens can be quite different from
adults. In this article, we will focus on some of the ways that depression in teens can be markedly
different from depression in adults.
Social Withdrawal – When adults are depressed it is very common to see them socially
withdraw and become isolated. Teenagers crave social interactions so much that it is less
common to see them withdraw socially. Instead, they might withdraw from their family but still
spend time with their friends. Also, they might withdraw from one peer group and join another.
In such a case, this might mean that they are starting to hang out with the wrong crowd.
Furthermore, a teen might withdraw from real-life interactions and spend their time socializing
Physical Pain vs. Emotional Pain – Generally speaking, adults understand and express their
feelings and emotions much better than teenagers. Consequently, when adults are depressed they
often describe it as emotional pain. Teenagers who are depressed often are not capable of feeling
their pain as emotional. Instead, they might report physical aches and pains such as headaches,
stomach problems, or just a general sense of not feeling physically well. Physical exams will not
reveal any medical problems.
Insomnia – Difficulty falling asleep is an extremely common symptom of adult depression. It
definitely happens to teens as well, just not as frequently as in adults. Hypersomnia, which is
excessive time spent sleeping occurs more frequently in adolescents and can sometimes be a
symptom of depression.
Anger – When adults are depressed, it often manifests itself as a profound sense of sadness. In
teens, a more common presentation of their depression is irritability and anger. These emotions
are certainly common even in non-depressed teens, but they are markedly more frequent and
persistent in depressed teens.
Defiance and Disrespect – Defiance and disrespect are definitely not unheard of in the
adolescent population, but if the frequency and intensity seems to be abnormal even for a
teenager then it might be a sign of depression.
The rule of thumb is that teenagers often act as teenagers. Occasional incidents of irritability,
defiance, anger, oversleeping, and withdrawal are not necessarily anything other than normal teenage behavior. However, if you suspect that you are observing something beyond the range of
normal, then it would be prudent to consult with a mental health professional to figure out a plan