Shining a spotlight on teen depression

Do you suspect your teen may be suffering from depression? Here are the warning signs and how parents can help.

 Is your teen depressed? Here are a few ways you can help your child navigate depression.

Did you know that in South Africa, one in four teens have attempted suicide?

The majority of planned suicides have depression – a leading cause of death in teenagers – at their root. Although highly treatable, the sad reality is that few teenagers actually get treatment.

To prevent unnecessary deaths, it is important for parents to be aware of what possible depression may look like in their teen children.

What are the warning signs of teen depression?

Taking into account the hormonal changes that occur naturally throughout adolescence, these symptoms may vary slightly from adult-onset depression:

  • Teenagers at risk are those who don’t seem to “bounce back” after a difficult day or situation
  • Serious and pervasive personality changes
  • Mood and behavioural changes; these changes affect functioning on all spheres on a daily basis
  • Regular and extreme social isolation or withdrawal, from everyone or only from some people
  • Irritability and anger
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Extreme sensitivity to criticism
  • Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
  • Loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyed

A teenager who should be closely monitored as a ‘suicide risk’ is one who:

  • Starts giving away personal possessions
  • Makes death-related or suicidal comments
  • Romanticises death
  • Engages in reckless behaviour
  • Creates paintings and poems that depict death
  • Listens to songs with lyrics about death and suicide

What can I do to help my teen?

As parents, we can think our physical duty ends with the pyjama drill… but, the truth is that it never ends! When we have teenagers in the house, ‘parenting’ includes activities like watching favourite DVDs, drinking milo before bedtime, and clothes shopping.

  • Communicate with your child, talk to her, be involved in her everyday life in a natural un-threatening manner
  • Listen without judging
  • Make daily ‘mind space’ for your teenager
  • Acknowledge and take care not to minimise your teenager’s experiences or feelings
  • Do not shy away from talking about suicide and asking your teenager if he has ever had thoughts about it

Where to get help for your child

Unlike adults (who know where to find a psychiatrist), teenagers need to take their problem to someone who can assist them in finding help. This takes a lot of courage, and it exposes an already depleted, drained teenager to ridicule, impatience and embarrassment – all of this at a time when he or she has the absolute (developmentally appropriate) need to be accepted and to fit in.

Diagnosed depression should be treated, as any other medical condition does, so do not hesitate to obtain medical input. Contact your medical doctor and find more information at