iStock_000014694151XSmallMay is Child Mental Health Awareness month so many of our posts over the coming weeks will cover the topic of mental health in teens. Fortunately, we have many experts in the field of adolescent mental health who have agreed to help offer information on this subject. Child and teen mental health is a topic often left un-discussed, yet it can cripple the lives of the teens who suffer and the families who love them. In this post, we’ve asked Dr. Carolyn McCarty, a psychologist at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital to answer questions on warning signs of depression in teens.What are some waring signs of depression in teens?

  • Withdrawal from their usual activities can be a warning sign, as well as a predominance of low mood or irritability
  • Teens who don’t seem able to have fun anymore.  The important thing to look for when distinguishing  clinical levels of depression is frequency and length of mood difficulties.  Almost all kids will show some moodiness and times of withdrawal, but when you are seeing a pattern over time that is frequent and interferes with their ability to engage in the usual activities—school, sports/extracurriculars, peer interactions—that is a good time to inquire further about depression.

How can school performance be affected if a teen is depressed?

  • They may have difficulty with focusing or concentration can be a symptom of depression.
  • We also have clear evidence that depression interferes with school performance and at its worst can be associated with early dropout.  So its important to find ways to help depressed teens stay engaged in school, even in spite of their mood.

How can parents help? Is depression something that will just go away?

  • Parents can help to initiate discussion with teens about how they manage their own moods and feelings, help with modeling of positive thinking, and help their children find ways to engage in activities that are personally fulfilling and meaningful.
  • Negative moods can come and go, but once into the sphere of clinical depression, active treatment from a mental health professional may be warranted.
  • There are several effective treatment options including cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and medication. The best treatment option will be determined by your teen’s health provider and therapist or counselor.

Are there resources in schools for teens suffering from mental illness?

  • Many schools have school-based health centers with professionals trained to treat depression, or counselors available.  School nurses can also be a good resource.

Do you have any tips/advice for parents who are worried?

  • First, don’t be afraid to ask or spark a discussion with your teen about the fact that high school is a common time for depression to start, and that you are a person who can talk to them about their moods and feelings.
  • Second, I think it is important for families to find ways to connect and have fun together, even in the midst of all the busy-ness of life and activities—so think about some ways that you and your teen have fun together, and talk to him/her about some things you can do (volunteer, exercise together, have a game night, watch a movie) to stay connected to engage in positive activities.