Filed in Blog - psychology by on August 19, 2016


Adolescence is a time of rapid physical, emotional and intellectual change.  These can occur at different rates and therefore at different times.  For example, those who develop early physically, do not necessarily experience early cognitive or emotional development.  Each of these changes is characterised by different developmental tasks.  For example, cognitively adolescents will move towards critical thinking and emotional adolescents will seek to establish their personal identity and moral code of living.

When the progression of development through these areas does not occur simultaneously, difficulties can arise.  Some knowledge and understanding of adolescence at these times can be beneficial to enable parents to support and comfort their adolescent.  When an adolescent is not able to cope with the stressors and anxieties in life, they can begin to feel lonely, fearful, angry and insecure.  If these feelings continue to grow, the adolescent can turn to self destructive behaviours such as delinquency, eating disorders, substance abuse, depression and suicide.

It is common of all people to feel sad at different times in their lives.  When these feelings become more persistent they may be classified as depressed feelings.  Depressed feelings are natural responses to real and perceived events of daily life that involve a minor sense of loss or unmet needs.  They are commonly experienced in reaction to situations where personal loss is interpreted and where a need has been denied.  Some examples are listed below:

*  Failing an exam                                                                       *  Not getting the highest mark in class

*  Not being chosen for a team                                                   *  Losing a game

*  Ending a relationship                                                             *  Being judged or critized

Depressed feelings from losses and unmet needs might be ignored, suppressed, dismissed or denied.  Even though consciously put aside, these same feelings can persist and accumulate with the eventual result of the experience of a depressed mood state.  This state is identified when our usual response to life is weighted and coloured by the mounting sense of losses that have gone unresolved and of the needs that have not been satisfied.  Over time, if this mood is not given attention, our ability to cope with life deepens and a state of clinical depression may emerge.

Clinical depression can be a response to an ongoing and persistent depressive state, or it may arise in reaction to major life losses.  When the losses involve our primary needs for safety, security and consistency, depression becomes increasingly likely.  Major losses may include:

*  Death of a family member, friend                                          *  Violence

*  Divorce                                                                                    *  Ill health

*  Emotional loss                                                                        *  Loss of income or status

Not everyone will become depressing if they have experienced any of the above.  Typically, clinical depression results from a complex combination of factors:

  1. imbalance or vulnerability
  2. earlier inability to resolve previous loss
  3. variety of unmet needs
  4. accumulation of past depressed feelings and depressed moods which have gone unattended
  5. biological predisposition

A depressed mood which is untreated can become chronic and debilitating.  Depression can affect the mind, body and spirit in one or more of the ways described below.

  1. Physical Signs of Depression
  • Loss or increase in appetite leading to significant and unintentional weight loss or gain
  • Sleep disorder (either unable to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Increase or decrease in motoric response (agitated or sluggish
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Markedly diminished sense of pleasure
  • Diminished ability to think, concentrate or make decisions

Other physical illness such as high blood pressure, ulcers, migraines, acne, back pains, asthma, colds and chronic fatigue can all be caused, increased, or complicated by depression.

  1. Emotional Signs of Depression

Emotionally, depression is most likely indicated when one experiences profound sadness nearly all day for many days in a row.  Along with the sadness, a person can likely feel tearful, irritable, energy depleted and empty.  Worthlessness and/or excessive guilt are often coupled with the feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.  A sudden period of happiness after a period of depression is a warming sign that the individual may have decided to take his/her life.

  1. Spiritual Signs of Depression

Difficulty with prayer, mediation, relaxation and rest block us from feeling connected to ourselves, to God and others.

  1. Interpersonal Signs of Depression

Depression affects our relationships in significant ways.  Depressed individuals tend to isolate and withdraw, increasing the perception of loss and disconnection from self and others.  They may become irritable and difficult to get along with and either become more or less sensitive to comments made between the individuals in the relationship.

  1. Verbal Signs of Depression
  • “ I wish I was dead”
  • “ You won’t have to bother with me any more”
  • “ I think dead people must be happier than when they were alive”
    “ I’d like to go to sleep and never wake up”
  1. Behaviourial Signs of Depression
  • Running away or truanting
  • Careless, accident prone behaviour
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Self harm
  • Decline in school work

Risk Factors

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Social isolation
  • Overachievers
  • Pessimistic adolescents
  • Learning- disabled adolescents
  • Over protected adolescents
  • Abused adolescents
  • Recent loss
  • Self harm

Protective Factors

  • Good peer relationships
  • Good relationship with at least one parent
  • Good community involvement
  • Positive regard and outlook
  • Good health
  • Having faith
  • Family stability

When an adolescent lacks self esteem, unhappiness can progress to depression.  Often adolescents lack the skills and beliefs that will enable them to handle and deal with their problems.  This sense of lack of control can sometimes lead an adolescent to believe that the easiest way to cope is to end their lives.  In 1998 it has been estimated that young people under the age of 20 conducted 5% of all recorded suicides.

Supporting Your Adolescent

  • Validate their feelings – accept that your child is struggling with emotional pain
  • Relate to your adolescent – ensure that you talk to your adolescent as a person with a problem, not as a depressed adolescent. This allows you to separate the problem from the person
  • Communicate Effectively – this enables your adolescent to express their needs and feelings in a

supportive and trusting environment.  Do not interrupt whilst they are talking.  Ask for

        clarification if you do not understand what has been said

  • Show that you are trying to understand by listening and offering empathy, not advice
  • Give positive feedback and try to encourage hope
  • Help generate solutions to problems and help to identify short term goals
  • Identify their coping behaviours and strengths
  • Encourage involvement in social and recreational activities
  • Seek professional help when the situation does not improve
  • Never treat depression as if it is simply teenage ‘blues’ – always take it seriously
  • Encourage stress management – exercise, relaxation, meditation, yoga


  • Reference materials
  • Internet sites
  • General Practitioner
  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Team
  • Psychiatrists
  • Psychologists
  • School Counsellor