40 percent of parents have difficulty identifying teenage depression vs mood swings

A new poll has revealed that some parents have difficulty distinguishing between their teenager's normal mood swings and signs of depression

A new national US survey has revealed that many parents struggle to tell the difference between their child's normal adolescent mood swings and signs of teenage depression.

The C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, which is carried out by the University of Michigan, surveyed 819 parents with at least one child in middle school, junior high, or high school and asked them about their ability to identify signs of youth depression.

The responses revealed that for two-thirds of those surveyed, there are challenges when it comes to spotting the specific signs and symptoms of depression, with 30 percent of parents reporting that their child is good at hiding their feelings, and 40 percent admitting that they struggle to tell the difference between depression symptoms and just the normal ups and downs experienced during adolescence.

"In many families, the preteen and teen years bring dramatic changes both in youth behavior and in the dynamic between parents and children," says poll co-director Sarah Clark. "These transitions can make it particularly challenging to get a read on children's emotional state and whether there is possible depression."

However, a third of parents polled were confident that these challenges would not impair their ability to recognize signs of depression in their child. Many parents also believed that although they would be able to recognize depression in their teens, the children would not be able to spot it in themselves. But Clark thinks some parents may be too confident.

"Some parents may be overestimating their ability to recognize depression in the mood and behavior of their own child. An overconfident parent may fail to pick up on the subtle signals that something is amiss."

The findings also showed that although it may be difficult for parents to identify depression, it is a common health concern among middle school, junior high, or high school children. One in four parents responded that their child knows a peer or classmate with depression, and 1 in 10 reported that their child knows a peer or classmate who has died by suicide.

The researchers also noted that rates of youth suicide are continuing to rise among people ages 10 to 24 years old. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate increased by 56 percent among this group between 2007 and 2017.

"Our report reinforces that depression is not an abstract concept for today's teens and preteens, or their parents," Clark says.

"This level of familiarity with depression and suicide is consistent with recent statistics showing a dramatic increase in suicide among US youth over the past decade. Rising rates of suicide highlight the importance of recognizing depression in youth."

Clark says parents should look out for signs of depression such as sadness, isolation, anger, irritability and acting out, and could suggest that their child finds a "go to" adult who they can trust and talk to if they are feeling depressed.