Child sad
One in five 15- to 24-year-olds in the world say they often feel depressed. Image Credit: Pexels

Life isn’t easy when you are a teen, not least because you are trying to figure out who you are at a time when you feel like an adult but are treated like a child.

The hormones are raging, leading to confusing, sometimes conflicting feelings – it’s enough to make you want to lash out; something teens are notorious for.

However, this angst may at times turn to something more sinister – and less obvious: sadness or depression.

And while they both look so similar to the common viewer, the two are very, very different states of mind. Dubai Health Authority (DHA) this week posted on its Instagram the difference between the two. It said: “Sadness is a basic and normal feeling but depression is considered to a psychological disorder and it is important to differentiate between them.”

In the post, DHA defined sadness as a normal feeling where the cause is known and should the cause disappear, so will the feeling. It isn’t accompanied by despair and loss of hope. And one can generally pull themselves out of that low feeling. It is also not accompanied by suicidal thoughts. (Is this from the post?)

Depression, meanwhile, wrote DHA, is a mental disorder with an underlying biological cause or something that affects a person after a major traumatic life event. It lasts for more than two consecutive weeks. It is accompanied by despair and loss of hope, and may lead to thoughts of suicide. While it is possible to get out of depression without medical help quite often, intervention is required.


US-based National Survey of Children’s Health states that numbers of those being diagnosed with either anxiety or depression among children aged 6 to 17 years increased from 5.4 per cent in 2003 to 8 per cent in 2007 and to 8.4 per cent in 2011–2012.

This number has only gone up with pandemic stress. A United Nations’ report, The State of the World’s Children 2021, published this month states that almost one in five 15- to 24-year-olds in the world say they often feel depressed.

Depression is usually accompanied by feelings of despair and loss of hope.

How can I help?

United Nations Children's Fund lists the following ways to support your teen during stressful times:

Encourage your teen to share their feelings:

Find ways to check in with your teen. Ask them how their day has been and what they have been doing. It could be by inviting them to join you in a task, such as cooking dinner, so you can use the time to chat about their day.

Remind your teen that you are there for them, no matter what, and that you want to hear how they are feeling and what they are thinking.

It is important to acknowledge and understand emotions they might be experiencing, even if it feels uncomfortable. For example, you can respond “I understand” or “it sounds like a difficult situation” or “that makes sense” when they share with you.

It can be easy to notice the things your teen is doing that you do not like. Try to notice and praise them for something they are doing well (even something very simple!).

Take time to support your teen

Work together on setting up new routines and setting achievable, daily goals as your circumstances may change with the changing context.

Adolescence means independence! Try to give your teen the appropriate time and space to be on their own and take on more responsibility. Needing space is a normal part of growing up.

Find a few ways you can support and encourage your teen to take breaks (from schoolwork, housework, or other activities they may be working on) to do things they enjoy and spend time with their friends. If your teen is frustrated, work with them to brainstorm some solutions to problems. Try not to take over and tell them what to do.

Work through conflict between you and your teen

Listen to your teens’ views and try to sort out problems between you and your teen calmly. Remember: Everyone can be stressed!

Never discuss an issue while you are angry. Walk away, take a breath and calm down – you can talk with your teen about it later.

Avoid power struggles. With the world feeling unpredictable right now, teens might be struggling to feel in control of anything. As difficult as it can be in the moment, empathize with your teen’s desire to assert control in a scary time, rather than attempting to fight back or overpower it.

Be honest and transparent with your teen: you can let them know that you are also experiencing extra stress and how you feel lost, uncertain or scared. Modeling how you deal with difficult feelings can help them know their own feelings are okay.

When there is a conflict, take some time to reflect on how you and your teen can resolve the conflict. You can discuss these reflections with your teen, so they see how you are processing ideas.

Take time to care for yourself

Caregivers have a lot to deal with. You also need care and support for yourself. Practicing self-care is also a good way of modelling self-care to your teen.

Don’t wait too long to ask others for help if you are feeling overwhelmed. It is normal and okay to feel this way. Find a family member or someone you can talk with.

Make time for your own relationships. Set aside some time each day to check in with others who make you feel supported and understood. Try to find a few people that you can share feelings and experiences with.

Make time in your day to do things that help you cope and manage stress. Whether your day is busy or slow, we know that making time to look after yourself is essential for your well-being.

Try different positive coping strategies to find what works for you. Ideas include:

  • Exercising
  • Talking with friends
  • Making to-do lists or planning ahead
  • Maintaining routines and structures
  • Reflecting on what you are grateful for or proud of
  • Doing things, you enjoy, like music, art, dancing
  • Keeping a journal

How do I know if my teen is depressed?

US-based Mayo Clinic says parents should keep an eye out for the following signs of depression in their teens:

Emotional changes

  • Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or empty
  • Irritable or annoyed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
  • Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide

Behavioural changes

Watch for changes in behaviour, such as:

  • Tiredness and loss of energy
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Changes in appetite — decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches, which may include frequent visits to the school nurse
  • Social isolation
  • Poor school performance or frequent absences from school
  • Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance
  • Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviours
  • Self-harm — for example, cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing
  • Making a suicide plan

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