"Nobody understands me!" - A Look into What's Really Going On in a Teenage Mind
Getting to grips with the teenage mind has always been a near impossible task. For parents, who themselves draw a lot from their own experiences, sometimes assume that they know how their children are feeling, but there’s still a huge lack of communication and understanding between the generations. It has been a centuries-long issue. It is very true that parents can guide their children from their own past, but time and maturity catches up with them and they can soon forget some aspects of what it is like to be a teenager (for instance, my own parents seem to have forgotten that even though I stay up all night listening to music, they did exactly the same with Michael Jackson and Duran Duran back in the day).
Teenagers are known, infamously, for their mood swings, late nights and rebellion. These may seem a normal part of growing up, but in some cases it goes a lot deeper than adolescent self-discovery; they could be suffering inside. As if the lack of understanding between parents and teenagers isn’t confusing enough, it could be worsened if both generations are somewhat unaware that the teenagers are indeed in pain.
“Adolescence – noun. The onset of puberty during which a young person develops from a child into an adult.”
Teenage years are without a doubt some of the busiest, inconstant and most memorable times of one’s life. In fact, a teenage brain is developing faster than one of a newborn baby, adapting and changing to the to world which surrounds. It is important to note that a teenager has not yet developed ‘empathy’, so when a parent yells - “Why can’t you see how I feel?” - it’s mostly likely because they can’t. It is a time when they are becoming their own person, in that awkward and confusing transition between childhood and adult life – and very quickly too. If you picture a thirty-year-old woman, and the same woman at thirty-three, likeliness is the changes within her are small-scale, depending on her life situation. However, a fifteen-year-old girl is very different to an eighteen-year-old girl, physically and mentally. Along with the beginnings of puberty, teenagers deal with exams, relationships and thinking about the future. It’s a very stressful time for everyone, but on top of this, in more cases than most people let on, another issue could be dominating their thoughts – depression.
Teen depression is one of the most common forms of the disorder, yet it is the least talked about. This is because it can vary in intensity and can be easily mistaken for normal teenage behaviour such as moodiness and occasional melancholy. It is to be expected that a teenager will have depressed feelings every once in a while, however teen depression can impact every aspect of one’s life if mistreated for too long.
The symptoms of teen depression are quite different to regular and chronic depression in adults, which are based more around feeling hopeless and sad. An article on the help guide website has a list of the following symptoms of teen depression:
- Irritability, anger or hostility
- Tearfulness or frequent crying
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Loss of interest in activities
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Restlessness and agitation
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Sadness or hopelessness
Despite the fact teenagers suffering with depression can have feelings of misery and sadness, it is commonly shown through bad behaviour, such as sarcasm or anger towards another family member, fall outs with friends, loss of appetite, irregular sleeping patterns and a lack of interest in school or hobbies once enjoyed. However, they often feel worthless and guilty on the inside, and the behaviour is just a reaction to how they really feel. If the teenager is acting one or more of these ways, it could be a red flag warning of something deeper than “just being a teenager”. Think about how long he or she has felt and behaved this way, and if it is out-of-sorts of them to do so. All teenagers hide in their rooms and listen to their music, but is there more than meets the eye? What type of music does the teenager listen to? Quite often teens express their feelings with the music that they like.
There could be many reasons why teenagers feel depressed.
- A common cause is stress from school or work. There is so much pressure on students, especially high achievers, to always be on form and get the best results. On top of emotional issues and growing up, it is a lot to deal with and too much stress can lead to a lack of control and eventually depression. It is important to prioritise, put things into perspective and focus on the most important tasks. If you are a parent, make sure your child isn’t overworking and becoming drained and exhausted, it has a negative effect on their physical and mental health.
- Peer pressure is another common cause of teen depression. If one is being bullied or manipulated, they can feel pressure to impress others and end up taking part in things they don’t want to do to feel like they belong. They can feel ashamed, embarrassed or guilty, wanting to bottle it up. It is vital to seek help if this is the case, talking to parents, friends or teachers is the best way to avoid being driven to self-loathing from bullies. Gossip and rumours is another big cause of depression amongst teens.
- Anxiety. Everyone worries about the future, but if it is common to suffer from anxiety it can lead to self-doubt and apathy, setting oneself up for failure and feeling hopeless.
- A personal related issue or a sad event. If something traumatic has happened, such as a death in a family or someone taken ill, it can have a real long-term effect on a teenager. Talking things through with family and friends is important to share how one is feeling, offer support and guidance and to avoid suffering alone.
- Violent or abusive relationships. An issue that is often hidden by teenagers is abuse and pressure in relationships. Violence, threats and verbal abuse from a boyfriend or girlfriend can affect someone deeply, especially at a young age. They may not be aware that behaviour is unacceptable because often the abuser makes them think that they deserve the mistreatment, or that they can’t meet anyone else. Pressures of relationships are difficult at this age; mostly the naivety makes the issue unheard of in a lot of cases.
- Not being able to handle emotions. A lot of the time, there may not be one particular cause of teen depression, but rather the overwhelming overload of every emotion and stress of adolescence. It can be a difficult time to deal with, they aren’t adults yet and a lot of their worries are new to them.
Consequences of teen depression:
Teen depression can lead to outbursts of anger, violence or vandalism, emotional breakdowns, failure in academic activities and fall-outs with loved ones. It can have a real knock-on effect to physical health, too, and can lead onto serious disorders such as anxiety, bipolar, chronic depression, bulimia and anorexia, and in worst cases self-harming and suicide.
It is vital to catch the signs of teen depression early, find the cause and help them to find happiness again.
Things to do to help:
For loved ones, it is usually the number one priority to help their friend or son/daughter get back to the way they were once before, especially if he or she is behaving in terrible ways. But the truth of the matter is there is no a particular cure for teen depression, and it can’t be gone away in a hurry. More often than not the teens just need some simple care and love, and interesting activities to occupy them and the feelings will eventually go away.
Some suggestions are:
- Starting a new hobby or interest – such as music or a sport. Having a new project to start is rewarding in more ways than one, doing a sport is beneficial for mental and physical health, and it is a good way to meet friends. Amateur dramatics and dance is a great way to build confidence and to express oneself through art.
- Going to study groups or having a tutor. A little helping hand with schoolwork is always a good idea. It will guide the teenager to get organised, manage their time properly and handle stress. Having a friend to help with work is always a good idea and will help raise confidence in work in a fun and useful way.
- Go out somewhere. Sometimes people just need a change of scenery to keep their mind off certain issues and put things into perspective. A small holiday, city breaks or even walks in the park are great ways to think and find something new and interesting to focus on.
- Take the burden away. If there are simply too many stresses going on at one time, take one of them away. Giving up the part-time job, spending less time on work each day – whatever is causing too much stress and isn’t completely necessary at that one time can be put away for another time. You can always return to it. Having a breather will make managing things a lot easier.
- Exercise and a healthy lifestyle. It may seem the answer to a lot of things, but that’s because it really does benefit all parts of life – especially mental health and self-esteem. Having a healthy diet is good for your skin (useful for teenagers with spots!) as well as general health, and exercise realises endorphins, which is good for increasing energy and a better mood. Having a good night’s sleep helps with relaxation, memory and attitude useful for exams. It will prevent negative thoughts late at night too.
- Talking to a teacher or a doctor. Getting help outside of home is useful for a different view on things, and could advise on bullying, stress or if the depression needs to be medically treated.
- Counselling is a great option if professional help is required. Some teenagers find this option a failure, thinking they have gone mad. Reassure them that anyone can see a counsellor, and it’s a good way to have someone listen to you from an outside view. It avoids family feuds and they give professional, useful advice and help.
Eventually it is down to the sufferer to find self-help, but this can be achieved with love, support and guidance. If you want to help someone with teen depression, be there to listen to them without lecturing them, be gentle but persistent, and don’t pass judgement or criticize. Teenagers don’t like to feel patronized or crowded so don’t bombard them with questions, it is likely they will try to shut you out. Most teenagers act reclusive with their concerns, especially if they think you will judge or embarrass them. Reassure them that their issues aren’t silly or irrational to you, but rather acknowledge what they are feeling, assure them that you are there for them unconditionally. They want to be taken seriously. But most of all be a friend to them and make them know that they are not alone.
I was sat in Starbucks with my two best friends a while ago, and I was discussing with them what it felt like when I had depression myself. What took me by surprise was they knew exactly how I had been feeling, and one shared a time when she had felt depressed – wishing she had never been born. I asked why she never told me until then, and she said she felt embarrassed by it and assumed everyone would label her as strange. At the time when I was suffering, I didn’t tell anyone apart from my family, for fear I would taken away by a mental asylum and everyone would laugh at me. The idea was completely ridiculous of course, but I am not the only one who hides the issue that can so easily be resolved.
And it is that attitude which needs to change. People need to be made aware that having teen depression is very normal and very common, more than what people first realise. Suicides, self-harming and eating disorders can all be prevented if we just listen to each other, and have a little bit of understanding.
-By Lauren Smith
(Source of symptom list: http://helpguide.org/mental/depression_teen.htm)