Is Depression being missed in Adolescents?
Mrs. M presented in session to provide information for her 16 year old daughter because she felt her daughter was experiencing anxiety due to academic workload. The parent expressed that the child was not depressed, but had seen the school counsellor for environmental adjustment issues just after moving from one school division to another in a new community. The parent explained that her and her husband had observed behavioral changes in the youth; the adolescent had become withdrawn isolating herself in her room, and generally looking sad. However, both her and her husband thought it was a “phase” the child was experiencing because she was an adolescent. The parent expressed both her and her husband thought the child would “outgrow” the phase. Mrs. M was alerted to her daughter’s emotional distress when another parent advised her of disturbing comments her daughter had shared with a friend. The disclosure was made to someone other than the parent. What makes it so difficult for children to confide in their parents?
Many adolescents say that they do not speak openly to their parents because they do not feel listened to, or they do not want to be lectured to, or worse yet, be yelled at. What the child is expressing is that they often do not feel that their parent(s) are emotionally or physically available to them, or will validate their feelings/emotions. It has also been acknowledged that at certain age children tend to seek recognition from peers, confiding in their peers rather than their parents. Perhaps it is because the children feel that they often have their peers’ attention, and they can readily share their own experiences. There might also be the assumption that their thoughts and feelings will not be criticized by their peers, there might be a sense of being validated, being understood. The level of cognitive processing, and the use of higher intelligence to judge or make a decision is different in that of an adolescent. What might be deemed as unacceptable by an adult may seem very acceptable and rational to an adolescent, therefore the feedback and support is more positive; a feeling of being validated. There is less fear of disapproval.
Adolescents often complain that parents are always invading their privacy, always checking up on them, wanting to know “what is going on”. Privacy is important to human beings; adolescents need their privacy, and that should be respected. It is important for parents to be aware if the adolescent is merely seeking privacy or being secretive. Both involve time away from observation, time spent in isolation, and engagement (or lack of engagement) of choice. For the purpose of this discussion let’s define “secrecy” as a behavior engaged in to mislead knowledge, or to hide that knowledge, and “privacy” freedom from intrusion or being observed. Isolation may be an attempt to disengage because the adolescent is experiencing some psychosocial or mental health issues. Children often hide from their parents (or keep secret) many problematic issues; problems with their grades, being bullied by peers, poor relationships, poor self-esteem etc. The reasons for lack of disclosure are many and they vary. However, if these issues are left unattended the child might experience severe anxiety or depression which will affect the child’s ability to function effectively. (The highlighted word above will take you and your teen to a site where you can explore and learn more about anxiety).
It is also important to remember that adjusting from childhood to adolescent, forming an independent identity, and assuming autonomy, may be very trying and emotional for some children. The adolescent needs parental guidance and support. The adolescent must also realize that their parents and other significant adults in their lives play an important role in helping them build effective coping tools. Communication is important in determining your child’s emotions and how he or she is feeling. Secure attachment and bonding are ingredients necessary for building any healthy, trusting, and respectful relationship. Open up the dialogue! Speak with your child’s teachers, coaches, guidance counsellors, etc. Don’t forget annual checkups with their pediatrician or GP. Any marked changes in your child’s behavior should be noted and openly discussed with your child. Seek professional help for your child if you are aware of marked changes in their behaviors or mood.
In Mrs. M’s case she had missed the signs of anxiety and depression in her daughter. This youth at the time of assessment was suicidal, and had engaged in self-injury behavior. Mrs. M and her daughter sought counseling intervention and they both were able to get the help and support they needed. To learn more about signs and symptoms of depression, please go to Children, youth, and depression.