By Ella Jameson
Guest Writer for Wake Up World
Parenting isn’t an easy job, but when adolescence hits it can become a minefield for even the happiest of families. Previously good-natured children can become withdrawn and moody, trustworthy kids can become deceitful, and obedient teens often begin to rebel.
It is also the time when depression is most likely to hit.
Over half of people who suffer from mental health problems experience the first symptoms at around age 14. The problem is far greater than you may think; a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control found that 16% of students in grades 9–12 were contemplating suicide, 13% had made a plan, and 8% had already tried to take their own life in the past year.
These are shocking and disturbing figures, made even more troubling by the fact that in the U.S less than half of teenagers with a mental health issue receive any treatment. Often put down to “normal” emotional or psychological changes experienced by teenagers, depression is also often wrongly attributed to drug abuse, because they share many key physical symptoms.
Drug abuse among young teens is a problem that’s mounting in many areas of the U.S, with some states reporting that over 7% of 12 – 17 year olds have used illicit drugs in the past year. Though drug use is often more of a concern for parents than depression, the issue of mental illness among young people is escalating at alarming rate. Today, teenagers are five to eight times more likely to suffer from depression than they were 50 years ago. So how can you determine whether your child is experiencing depressive symptoms, or whether the warning signs could be down to substance use or abuse?
If you are concerned about your child, have a look at a couple of key points that may help you to correctly identify the problem and help sort the issue before it becomes more problematic.
Changes in physical appearance
Often one of the first concerning signs that parents pick up on are changes in their child’s physical appearance. Teenagers are renowned for being invested in their looks and the clothes that they wear, so a sudden lack of interest in appearance, often accompanied by little interest in personal hygiene or grooming, can be an important sign. One of the most palpable signs of depression is a lack of pride in appearance – but frustratingly, this also can be a symptom of drug abuse.
Fixation on a drug habit can lead to negligence in other areas of life, with appearance and hygiene being key strands. If your child’s indifference to their looks is accompanied by the acquisition of other new habits, such as regularly spraying perfume or only ever wearing long-sleeves, this could be more of an indicator of drug abuse than depression; attempting to mask the tell-tale smell of marijuana with cologne or trying to conceal track marks with long-sleeved clothes are all common camouflage tactics among drug users.
However, you should bear in mind that many young people want to radically modify their appearance, and sometimes looking dirty and disheveled can take an unexpectedly long time for teenagers to achieve!
Drastic changes in weight
Sudden alterations in weight can be another symptom of an underlying problem, and together with changes in appearance is often one the things parents pick up on first. With regards to depression, significant weight loss when not dieting or sudden weight gain (more than 5% increase in body weight in a month) can be a sign of a problem. Generally weight loss is more frequent than weight gain, but some people suffering from depression begin comfort eating and gain weight that way.
Weight loss is also a symptom of drug abuse. Stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamines and cocaine suppress the appetite and speed up metabolism, and a decrease in appetite, loss of interest in favorite food and nausea when eating can all point to a drug problem. The lifestyle of someone who is seriously abusing drugs can often mean that they lose weight rapidly too, as depending on the substance it’s not uncommon for people abusing stimulants to go on binges and not to eat at all for several days.
If a sudden change in weight is the only symptom you’ve noticed in your child then it’s unlikely to be either depression or drug abuse, as it is not unusual for teenagers to experience quite drastic weight changes.
The key is to look at the symptoms wholly and to put them into context. Dramatic changes in appearance and weight do not necessarily mean your child is either depressed or on drugs; it’s important to look at the bigger picture and analyze other areas of their life and behavior.
If the symptoms of weight loss and diminished appearance are combined with other new factors like deceit and secrecy, then a drug-related issue is more probable then depression; if your child has become more withdrawn and morose but is displaying those symptoms, then it’s important to let them know that depression is an issue that affects many young people, there is a way out and that they are not alone.
About the author:
Ella Jameson is a writer, blogger and contributor to many different websites, blogs and magazines. After graduating from university with a first class degree in English Literature, Ella worked as an editor and copywriter for several years before becoming a freelance journalist. Her specialist subjects include travel, interior design, health and fitness, diet, and the environment. Ella lives in London when she isn’t visiting as many countries as she possibly can, and she enjoys cooking (and eating!) foreign cuisine.