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Can Puberty Cause Depression? Diving Into Teen Depression

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understanding teen depression

Understanding What Makes Depression in Teens a Special Case

Parents and guardians know too well that puberty brings many hormonal, emotional and behavioral changes as children enter their teenage years. And with it, the moodiness most parents have to learn to cope with. 

Most importantly are the physical changes during this period of transition and growth. At the same time, teenagers begin to develop identities separate from their parents and more aligned with their peers as they try to fit in. These changes can bring intense emotional stress, feelings of inadequacy, especially about their bodies, and even isolation. 

Figuring out whether these changes are just “passing moods” or if they signal more serious issues such as depression or other mental health disorders, can be very challenging for parents. Puberty brings with it attitudes, behavior, responsibility and moods that can look and feel like mental illness.

Depression is not one of these passing moods—it’s a serious mental health disorder that often requires professional help. Let’s look at what’s going on with teens during puberty.

What Makes Puberty so Difficult?

The most significant issue during puberty is the often rapid physical change to a teen’s growing body. This brings with it an increased self-consciousness with their body image and ensuing comparison with peers. 

Teens can feel increased emotional distress, as they wish to keep up with more physically developed peers. And this is accentuated in this time of intense social media use with the flood of often unrealistic photos on sites such as TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. Teens may also express sadness, despair, or anger and even rebelliousness.

At the same, teens may feel heightened social pressure with increased expectations from peers, family, friends and teachers to conform and perform.

Mental Health Impact of Puberty

Puberty brings with it a series of mental health impacts. Some are part of normal teenage growth while others may indicate more serious issues, depression being one of the most significant and frequent.

Every parent knows that the teen years can be an emotional rollercoaster with rapidly swinging moods, often for no apparent reason. Hormonal changes are kicking in, with heightened emotions and sudden shifts in behavior. For some teens it can be challenging to manage their feelings appropriately but they get through it. For others, that’s not the case.

At the same time with puberty, teen’s brains begin a significant period of growth and maturation in cognitive development. Most importantly, these changes affect their decision making, impulse control and emotional regulation. And again, for those teens who do not successfully integrate these changes, mental health issues such as depression are made worse.

teen depression

Depression in Teens

Teen depression isn’t a weakness. Not can it be overcome with willpower. Teen depression involves a change during puberty from the teenager’s previous attitude and behavior that can cause significant distress and problems at school or home, in social activities, or in other areas of life. 

What Are the Risks of Teen Depression?

The causes of depression are not well understood but involve a combination of changes in brain chemistry with neurotransmitters, hormone imbalance, genetics with inherited family traits, the impact on the brain of early childhood trauma and learned ways of negative thinking.

Triggers and risks of depression in teens may include:

  • Academic stress to perform or other stressors
  • Abuse or neglect
  • Physical or emotional trauma including peer problems, bullying, and academic trouble
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions such as eating disorders, self-injury, anxiety, ADHD, or learning disorders leading to lack of self-confidence and frustration with schoolwork academics and friends. 
  • Physical disabilities or chronic illness 
  • Family history of depression, especially if a parent had depression when young
  • Past and present stressful experiences. Past trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or recent events, such as the loss of a loved one
  • Loss of a relationship, such as moving away or losing a boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Other developmental, learning, or conduct disorders
  • Lack of social support. Teens may be unsupported by family or peers.
  • Gender issues, especially if the person is bullied
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Suffered a traumatic brain injury

Signs of Teen Depression

Here’s what to look out for:

Emotional changes

  • Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters
  • Feeling hopeless or empty
  • Irritable or annoyed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
  • Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide

Behavioral changes

  • Tiredness and loss of energy
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite—decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Agitation or restlessness—for example, pacing, hand-wringing, inability to sit still
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches, which may include frequent visits to the school nurse
  • Social isolation
  • Poor school performance or frequent absences from school
  • Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance
  • Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors
  • Running away or threats of running away from home
  • Self-harm — for example, cutting or burning
  • Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt

How To Help a Teenager Overcome Puberty

Parents play a key role in helping their teens through puberty, as do other family members, teachers and friends. Parents have a responsibility to play the lead role wherever possible. Here are some tips:

  • Honest communication
  • Share with your teen what symptoms you’re seeing and why you are concerned. 
  • Ask them to share. 
  • Focus on listening 
  • Work with their comfort level. Don’t push
  • Acknowledge their feelings. Take them seriously
  • If they won’t talk with you, find someone else.
  • Encourage them to connect with their friends
  • Create time each day to talk with your teen
  • Encourage them to not isolate in their rooms or elsewhere
  • Work to reduce their social media use and connect face-to-face
  • Involve them in activities they’re interested in
  • Do things for others
  • Get engaged with physical activities. Exercise is important
  • Limit screen time
  • Provide healthy meals and snacks
  • Encourage plenty of sleep

When Is It OK to Seek Professional Help?

If your teen has depressive symptoms impacting their schoolwork, social interactions, home relationships or daily activities for  longer than 2 weeks, then seek help from a mental health professional with advanced training and a strong background treating teens. Involve your teen in selecting someone they are comfortable with.

Talk therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be helpful to reframe negative thought patterns and work towards realistic goals. Other types of therapy may also help. Antidepressant medications for teens may come with some risks so consult a doctor or psychiatrist. 

How Clearfork Academy Can Help 

If you believe your teen is experiencing depression that is impacting their mental health and sense of self, it may be time to seek professional help and advice. 

Clearfork Academy has a compassionate and comprehensive team who are experts in treating mental health and substance abuse issues in teens.  Contact Clearfork today to find out how we can help.

Sources

Matthews, D. 2018. Is It a Mental Health Problem? Or Just Puberty? National Alliance on Mental Illness

Jiang L, Yang D, Li Y, Yuan J. 2021. The Influence of Pubertal Development on Adolescent Depression: The Mediating Effects of Negative Physical Self and Interpersonal Stress. Front Psychiatry. 2021 Nov 18;12:786386. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.786386. PMID: 34867564; PMCID: PMC8637052.

Teen Depression. Symptoms and Causes. 2022. Mayo Clinic

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