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Teen Depression: Normal Behavior or Serious Problem?

Resource Center Helps Parents Identify Problems

These days, teenagers are dealing with a lot. From break-ups, to breakouts and college applications, there are a number of things that can set teens off. When a teenager acts out, it’s easy for parents to chalk it up to adolescence. So how can parents tell if their teen has a serious problem or going through growing pains?

LOUDOUN COUNTY Mental Health Center’s Dr. Stacey Waring said there is a fine line between normal teenage moodiness and depression.

The doctor works with clinically depressed teens.

"It’s normal for teens to be moody," she said. "They’re going through a lot of changes and transitions. They’re dealing with pressure from their peers and authority figures."

But there cons a time when parents need to step in.

"You don’t want the problem to go on too long," Waring said.

While parents should expect some door slamming and apathetic dinner conversations, Waring said teens should be able to snap out of this behavior in a couple of days.

"There may be a problem if your teen is depressed over a long period of time," she said, "if there’s a protracted process of feeling sad."

If a teen is feeling sad, Waring said there are a number of signs parents can look out for, to detect a real problem.

"Teens might suffer from physical problems, like headaches and stomach pains. They might seem anxious," she said. "They are all signs of depression."

Another teenage depression red flag is withdrawal.

"I’m not just talking about staying in one weekend," Waring said.

If parents notice a change in the behavior of their teen, they should have a conversation with them.

The best way to prevent a serious problem is for parents to stay active in their teens’ lives.

"Know what’s going on. Open the lines of communication," Waring said.

If parents have a hard time getting their teens to open up, Waring advised them to talk their friends.

"Just don’t ignore the problem," she said.

IN HONOR OF Mental Health Awareness month, the Loudoun County Department of Mental Health's Community Resource Center’s Catherine Motivans reminded parents of tools it has to offer when dealing with depressed teens.

The Community Resource Center provides information about mental illnesses, as well as mental retardation and substance abuse, to parents through a lending library of books, videos, audio tapes and pamphlets.

The Center is also a good source for information on community organizations and services designed to assist families dealing with mental illnesses.

Community Resource Center’s executive director Tom Maynard said depression is a hard thing to pinpoint in teens.

"It’s a difficult thing to sort out," he said. "We don’t want to overly alarm parents because it is normal for teens to go through ups and downs. But it is important for family members to recognize signs of depression."

In an effort to get information out about teen depression, and mental health in general, the Department of Mental Health works with the schools.

The prevention staff talks to students in school and during after-school programs.

"This is an area we would to be doing more with," he said. "But we had a lot of tools at the resource center."

For more information, contact Catherine Motivans at the Community Resource Center, 703-777-0378.