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Three Signs Your Teen Needs Therapy

What’s normal teenage angst? How can you tell if your kid needs professional help?


Some kids pass through adolescence swiftly, with little turmoil. For others, puberty detonates like a time bomb; once it goes off, nothing is the same. As a psychotherapist, I’ve sat with many brokenhearted parents as they agonize over their teen’s behavior, mystified by the metamorphose.


“She was such a happy child.”                       “He was so easy.”                  “She use to be so kind hearted.”

Developmental vs. Atypical Depression in Adolescence


Developmental Depression in Adolescence

Adolescence is frequently accompanied by a grieving period triggered by a sudden awareness of the fragilities of life. The realization of mortality, that loved ones and they themselves are vulnerable begins to darken their outlook.

Though developmental depression causes internal unrest, it also signals a fresh chapter in a teenager’s life in which a new sense of self begins to emerge. This unrest is normal and necessary; teenagers cannot forge a cohesive sense of self without sifting through these insecurities and uncertainties. The two key issues of developmental depression—identity and separation-individuation— must be wrestled with. If not, teenagers remain mired in outdated, early childhood behaviors such as temper tantrums or bullying.


Atypical Depression in Adolescence

Conditions that exacerbate developmental depression and create more serious emotional instabilities result in atypical adolescent depression. Generated by increased levels of emotional distress, atypical depression is often triggered by disruptive forces such as:

Undiagnosed Learning disabilities, Illness and injury, Trauma, Social rejection, Parental conflicts,

Death of a loved one, Financial hardship, Changing homes or schools.

Unlike a developmental depression, in which teenagers experience tolerable levels of melancholy and mourning, atypical depression overwhelms teens with crushing despair and overpowering psychic tension. Unwelcomed feelings of rage, frustration, hopelessness, or powerlessness flare up and frequently give birth to mercurial moods, negativity, or destructive obsessions.Teenagers may appear persistently fatigued, hyper vigilant or exhausted. Features of atypical adolescent depression may include:


Predominantly depressed or irritated mood

Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable

Social isolation and panic attacks

Persistent fatigue, insomnia or hypersomnia

Prolonged feelings of hopelessness and indecisiveness

Severe mood swings

Persistent suicidal or homicidal ideation

What to do if your teen suffers from Atypical Depression?

When something goes wrong with their kids, asking for help can trigger feelings of failure or shame in parents. But getting help for your kid is an act of compassion not a sign of weakness. More importantly, atypical depression, left untreated, can negatively alter the entire course of your child’s life.


Three Signs that your Teenager Needs Help:  Here are three red flags that demand attention:

1. Self-Harm: If your teenager is cutting, hitting or hurting him or herself, this is a sign of unbearable emotional turmoil and psychic imbalance. Self-harming behaviors can become habit forming and escalate over time.


2. Chronic Substance Abuse: Experimentation with drugs of alcohol may be all too common in adolescence, but if your kid is regularly coming home drunk or high, a serious problem is taking root. Act immediately, particularly if your family has a history of substance abuse. Teens suffering from atypical depression are far more likely to develop substance abuse problems. (See "Teen Prescription Med Abuse Skyrockets, Parents Clueless")


3. Suicide Ideation or Attempts: I’m always shocked when parent don’t take threats of suicide or actual attempts seriously. They believe they can manage the situation themselves or their kid is “just being dramatic.” With teen suicide rates on the rise, particularly among girls, all attempts or threats demand profession attention.

Adapted from Sean Grover L.C.S.W., Aug. 4, 2017

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