If you’re wondering “Is my son depressed” you’ve probably noticed some changes in him. Here are some signs that your son might be depressed:
- Withdrawal from Others
- Decrease in Energy
- Lack of Interest in Activities
- Increase in Anger
- Increase in Risky Behaviour
- Disordered Eating
- Disrupted Sleep
- Decrease in School Performance
- Trouble Concentrating
- Feeling Like a Failure
- Suicidal Thoughts
What Should I Do?
If you think your son might be depressed the best thing you can do is take him to get assessed by your family Doctor. If he is unwilling to do then he can also take this depression self-check. It’s not the same as a diagnosis, but it’s a place to start. You can also check out my article on How to Help Your Depressed Son for ideas on what you can do to help. If he won’t talk to anyone about it keep reading to learn the signs and symptoms that he might be depressed.
Depression in Male Adolescents
Depression can look different in adolescents compared to adults, and in males compared to females. In adolescents, there is no requirement that they express sadness to be diagnosed with depression. Rather in adolescents, an increase in irritability is often observed. Similarly, depression in males often looks different than in females.
While there is currently no diagnostic category for male type depression increasing research into this area is showing that depression manifests differently in men. For example men may drink more, complain of back pain, or work more when depressed rather than feeling down, sad and depressed. Watch the video below for a full break-down of what male type depression looks likes.
Are you getting confused yet? Add to this a heaping spoonful of hormones and it can be very hard for even doctors and clinicians to pick up on depression in some young men, who may also downplay their symptoms due to self-stigma.
The best way to differentiate normal teen behavior and moodiness from depression is change in behaviour and functioning. In my experience as a clinical counsellor this is the primary criteria that separates people with low mood from clinical depression. Let’s take a closer look at what that means.
Withdrawal from Others
Depressed adolescents often withdraw from social contact. This could look like spending more time in their room alone, or speaking less with family members. He may still be connecting with friends online, but if his in person social contact drops significantly it’s a major cause for concern. Read my article on How to Connect with Your Depressed Son for ideas on how to reduce his isolation.
Decrease in Energy
If your son is depressed he will likely have less energy and complain of lack of motivation. You might notice that he stops doing activities or chores that he previously did easily. He could be napping more than usual, or physically moving slower than in the past. The difference between this and laziness is that ALL activities decrease, whereas with laziness only the undesirable activities are avoided.
Lack of Interest in Activities
One of the worst symptoms of depression is anhedonia. Anhedonia is a loss of pleasure from activities once found enjoyable. If your son stops doing activities that he once enjoyed it could be due to depression. The difference between normal interests changing and anhedonia due to depression is that your son won’t get pleasure out of almost ANY of his activities.
Increase in Anger
If your son has become increasingly irritable it could be due to depression. Teens can be diagnosed with depression without feeling sad, or depressed but even if they notice an increase in irritability. The difference between normal mood swings and irritability caused by depression is that the latter is persistent, and present the majority of the time. Read my article on Why is My Son Always Angry to learn more about the causes.
Increase in Risky Behaviour
One sign of depression that is more commonly seen in boys than girls is an increase in risky behaviour. Boys who are depressed often feel like less of a man and this drives them to do more risky things to prove to their peers that they are man enough. It’s also a way of avoiding painful emotions. Risk-taking is developmentally normal for teens. It’s only if you see an increase in the intensity and incidence of risky behaviour that you should be worried.
Disordered eating is both a cause and symptom of mood disorders. If your son isn’t getting nutritional balanced meals daily it could lead to imbalances in his body that will negatively affect his mood. Also if he is depressed you may have noticed an increase in eating sugary and carb heavy foods. These foods produce dopamine in the body which will make him feel good for a moment, and terrible when his blood sugar spikes and crashes.
A common symptom of depression is sleeping to much (hypersomnia) or less commonly insomnia (sleeping too little). Teens need 8-10 hours of sleep, so if your son is sleeping less than 7 hours per night, or more than 10 it could be due to depression. Disrupted sleep contributes to low mood, and is a major risk factor for suicide. To learn How to Protect Your Sons Sleep read my article on the topic.
Decrease in School Performance
Teen boys are often disinterested in school, especially if they have learning challenges. What you should be on the lookout for is if you see a big decrease in school attendance, and performance. Especially if your son is avoiding school he will be at increased risk for depression as his sleep patterns will be negatively affected.
Depression affects every aspect of the brain’s functioning including attention. If your son has ADHD he may already have problems in this area, and depression will only make it worse. If you notice that your son has a harder time focusing on a task than he did previously it could be related to depression.
FEeling like a failure
If your son feels like a failure at life he is at high risk of depression. It can be difficult to ask him this questions directly but you can probably guess if he feels this way based on your knowledge of your son. If you son has failed at something like school, sports, or friends he could be feeling like a failure. The danger is if these feelings continue well beyond the triggering event and stay with him for years leading to persistent low mood.
If your son is having thoughts of suicide it’s likely that he’s depressed. If you suspect your son might be depressed it helps to ask him about suicide directly. Parents are often worried that they could “give their son ideas” but the research shows the opposite. People who have suicidal thoughts feel less alone and more supported when asked.
After connecting with him through an activity you could say something like this “I’ve noticed some changes in you lately (list from above signs), and I’m worried about you. I want to make sure your safe and I was wondering if you have been having any thoughts of suicide?”. If he answers yes. Empathize with him and offer emotional support.
Do you know a young man who you think might be depressed? If yes feel free to leave a comment or question below.