All adolescents experience some mood swings and attitude changes as a natural result of their biological development, but when these changes become too extreme or symptoms like irritability or sadness seem to last too long, chances are there's something more at stake. A good 25% of all teens suffer from at least one bout of clinical depression during their adolescence, according to recent research, and girls are twice as likely as boys to count themselves in this number.
And while it's easy to discount depression's symptoms as a "passing phase" or some kind of character weakness on the part of your daughter, doing so can prove highly detrimental to your daughter's overall health - both now, and in the future. Depression can not only lead to serious physical problems, if left untreated it can lead to continuing emotional problems and in severe cases, suicide.
While depression may be hard to spot at first, if your daughter exhibits any of the following symptoms for more than a few days, it's wise to seek the help of a school counselor or mental health professional immediately: the sooner your daughter receives the care and support she needs, the more successful her recovery will be - and the less likely it is that she'll experience another depressive episode. And while you probably don't need additional convincing (your daughter's happiness is probably reason enough), keep in mind the fact that depressed adolescents are far more likely to smoke cigarettes and engage in other risky behaviors than adolescents who are not depressed.
Add to this the fact that people who experience more than one episode of depression have an increased likelihood of experiencing a third (and those who experience a third have an even higher likelihood of experiencing a fourth and so on), and you can see that the importance of getting your daughter the help she needs NOW cannot be overstated.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the following symptoms can indicate serious depression:
You may also notice other changes in your daughter's behavior, such as loss of interest in social activities or hobbies, a sudden or noticeable decline in her academic performance or an unusual lack of concern about school work, grades or, more alarming, her personal health and well-being.
If you think your daughter might be experiencing depression there are a number of things you can do to help her deal with - and overcome - her condition, not to mention develop the skills necessary to avert or avoid another depressive episode later on.
First of all, keep the door open. Regardless of how inconvenient it might be, if your daughter wants to share her feelings with you, be available. Even if it's midnight and you're half-asleep, if she's ready to talk, be ready to listen. Sharing her thoughts, feelings and concerns is a positive and constructive step towards recovery - it's also an essential means of letting your daughter know that she has the love and support she needs.
Get help immediately. Depression is not a sign of weakness and it is not a character flaw. It is a biological illness. If your daughter was suffering from pneumonia or bronchitis, you wouldn't try to "fix it" yourself - and you shouldn't try to "fix" her depression alone, either. With proper, professional care and attention - not to mention your love, support and involvement - she will have the resources she needs for a successful recovery.
Seek a support network for your daughter by involving her teachers, coaches and school counselors in her recovery process. Ask them to gently encourage and support her involvement and to help with positive goal-setting as a means of helping her to stay "connected" to her school and social community. Likewise, encourage her to engage in some form of physical activity (exercise has long proved to be a very successful antidote to depression) and work with your daughter to plan daily and weekly activities that will keep her involved.
Stay involved yourself. Overall, simply staying involved in your daughter's life is one of the most important things you can do for her. The better your relationship - the more trusting, communicative and open - the more likely you'll be to catch depressive symptoms before they escalate, and the easier it will be for you to offer her the care and support she needs to maintain a healthy emotional balance.