Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Preteens and Depression

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Between 7 million and 12 million American youth suffer from mental, behavioral, or developmental disorders at any given time, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Common mental health issues that preteens face include depression, which is a treatable illness. Depression is defined as an illness when the feelings of being sad or blue persist and interfere with a person's ability to function in school, home, or in relationships.

About 5 percent of children and adolescents in the general population suffer from depression at any given point in time. Children under stress, who experience loss, or who have attentional, learning, conduct or anxiety disorders are at a higher risk for depression. Depression also tends to run in families.

Warning signs that parents, providers, and educators should look for include:
  • Frequent sadness, tearfulness or crying
  • Decreased interest in activities or a lack of enjoyment in things a preteen previously enjoyed
  • Hopelessness
  • Boredom and low energy
  • Isolating themselves and not communicating
  • Decreasing self-esteem
  • Extreme sensitivity to failure, or criticism
  • Increasing hostility or anger
  • New struggles with relationships
  • Frequent complaints about headaches or stomachaches
  • Lots of absences from school or a drop in school performance
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Major change in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Talk of or attempts to run away from home
  • Talk or thoughts of suicide or self-destructive behavior

I know that some of these behaviors seem to be normal for preteens and teens, but it is the change in behavior that is the key. If your preteen used to spend a lot of time with friends, but all the sudden stays in their room, or usually loves a family outing and now refused to attend, or starts becoming very secretive - these are changes in behavior and you need to seek help from a doctor or mental health provider.

Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for depressed children. Depression is a real illness that requires professional help. Comprehensive treatment often includes both individual and family therapy, as well as the use of antidepressant medication. For help, parents should ask their physician to refer them to a qualified mental health professional, who can diagnose and treat depression in children and teenagers.

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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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