It is normal for teenagers to feel sad or upset at times. In teenagers, mood disorders are often not evidenced by the same types of symptoms compared to adults.
In teenagers, depression can be evidenced by a pervasive sense of sadness, lack of enjoyment, low motivation, poor concentration, social withdrawal from friends and family, emotional outbursts with minimal provocation, excessive irritability, intense reassurance seeking, recurrent nightmares, difficulty going to sleep or waking throughout the night. Lowered mood can also be associated with anxiety symptoms, or increasingly rebellious or risk-taking behaviour.
Brisbane Specialist Suites helps teenagers manage a range of mood disorders including:
- Adjustment Disorder
- Grief and Loss
- Bipolar Disorder
Other conditions which may also be associated with a sad or depressed mood include:
- Coping with separated or blended families
- Transitions to a new home or school
- Loss or death of a loved one
Mood disorders can impact a teenager’s capacity to move through developmentally appropriate milestones, attend school or work, or cope with family life. Mood disorders may persist into adulthood if not appropriately treated, and can be associated with other risk taking behaviours such as drug use.
When do we need to seek treatment?
We recommend requesting Specialist assessment when your teenager’s mood is:
- Persistently low despite opportunities to participate in previously pleasurable activities.
- Associated with marked distress
- Associated with insomnia or loss of appetite (particularly if weight loss is present)
- Associated with functional impairment i.e., the teenager in question cannot go to school, attend social activities with peers, or refuses to leave home
- Associated with thoughts of harming oneself or ending one’s life
- Causes a significant disruption to family functioning
What is involved in assessment?
Whether you see a Psychiatrist or Psychologist first, a comprehensive assessment should always involve a detailed history from caregivers. This will involve both parents or guardians. The involvement of both guardians is particularly important if children move between two households.
This part of the assessment will focus on:
- Observations of your teenager in multiple settings (at home, at school, at extra-curricular activities)
- Family history of anxiety or other medical conditions
- Past medical history of the teenager in question (taking a “bio-psycho-social approach” including developmental and medical history)
- Interventional strategies that have been trialed to date by caregivers and professionals
Your specialist will also request collateral information from prior treatment providers (GP, psychologist) as well as school (teacher, guidance officer or school chaplain) or employer.
The second part of the assessment will involve an assessment with your teenager. Your teenager will be interviewed alone. Whilst taking a history, your specialist should also screen your child for any co-existing learning or language disorder which might impact on their capacity to self-soothe and participate in day-to-day activities.
Depending on the history, your Specialist may recommend blood tests to exclude possible comorbid medical conditions that can manifest with anxiety symptoms. This is particularly important if you are considering medication.
What treatment can we expect?
Good practice dictates that first line treatment should consist of psychological treatment from an appropriately skilled Psychologist, Psychotherapist or Child Psychiatrist with experience in the area. Psychotherapeutic sessions will generally occur weekly, and will use principles from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, although other strategies such as Dialectical Behahvioural Therapy or Interpersonal Psychotherapy may also be used.
Caregivers are encouraged to be a strong participant in their teenager’s treatment. Your Specialist at Brisbane Specialist Suites will teach you skills so that you may have the knowledge to reinforce strategies at home.
Medication is only considered when psychological strategies have failed, or when anxiety is of such severity that your teenager is unable to participate in psychological treatment. Medication should only be considered under the supervision of a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist.
What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy?
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is based upon two components:
- The “Cognitive” part focuses on helping your teenager to take notice of, and track, their thought patterns when feeling sad or depressed. Once these have been mapped out, your teenager is then taught how to challenge automatic thoughts (by replacing unhelpful thinking) and regulate their emotions using techniques such as mindfulness and attention training, or self-management training.
- The “Behavioural” part focuses on practical behavioural strategies to manage their mood. This may include activities such as relaxation skills to self-soothe when they experience unpleasant feelings, but may also include strategies to challenge themselves (such as leaving the house to engage in pleasurable activities, or doing regular exercise).
It is essential that these skills are delivered in a developmentally appropriate way by an appropriately skilled Specialist. Both Individual (one to one) and Group psychological treatments are available at Brisbane Specialist Suites.
Group Therapy for Anxious Teenagers and Young Adults
In Group Therapy Teenagers and Young Adults can be taught social skills as well as techniques from Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and Interpersonal Psychotherapy.
Key targets to change in a group setting include:
- Increasing self-awareness;
- Social skills;
- Building resilience;
- Dealing with bullying;
- Developing empathy;
- Relaxation skills;
- Increasing positive coping role models and support networks;
- Problem-solving skills; and
- Friendship skills.
Many teenagers and young adults report strong positive benefits from attending Group Therapy as they experience that they are not alone and they expand their social circle.