Teens and Depression
At the Mercy of Horrormones: Distinguishing Normal Adolescent Behavior and Depression in Youth Ministry
By John Thurman M.Div., M.A., LPCC
Every youth pastor has experienced it at least once: the teen under their care who apparently undergoes a personality transplant. Once sunny, happy, and carefree, this young person suddenly becomes moody or surly. It works the other way too. The formerly quiet teen can become giddy and outgoing. And just as suddenly they can revert back to “normal.”
No, they are probably not suffering from Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, or Multiple Personality Disorder (now referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder.
They are just being teens, though such unpredictable adolescent behavior can be frustrating to parents and unnerving to youth workers.
The Role of Horrormones
Adolescence is a season of gigantic changes for kids as they transition into the complex and tumultuous social and emotional years of middle school and high school. But perhaps the more important factor affecting their behavior is hormones, which I have found can quickly become “horrormones,” a term my wife coined. Those complex chemicals racing through kid’s bloodstreams aren’t just changing their bodies and their voices; they are quite literally changing their brains. (See www.amenclinic.com) Dr. Daniel Amen is doing some great work on the brain.
As an adolescents brain is being rewired by this influx of chemical compounds, a hormonally affected teenager may not interpret his/her work accurately. Social judgment may be impaired. They may go through several grumpy and withdrawn periods when they seem to sleep all weekend (unless, of course, he’s going out). They can become strong-willed, uninterested and unresponsive to simple adult input.
If you aren’t careful you can read more into these behaviors than is really there. The reality is that many teens will experience a wide variety of emotions that affect their walk with God and their relationships with both peers and parents. So if your kids are going through a particular challenging season of behavior, or beliefs, be consistent and reasonable, and remember that this is part of their development.
There are times, however, when this “normal” behavior crosses a line and becomes a symptom of something more. Your internal alarm system should be making all sorts of noise if a teen seems unusually sad, angry, weepy, or withdrawn-especially if it last for more than a few days. If a teen loses interest in things he/she used to enjoy, if there seems to be a change in appetite or sleep patterns, pay attention. If you see or hear about a teen acting out in an unusual way-for example, if he/she is cutting herself or doing poorly in school-she may be suffering a clinical depression. The other signs of clinical depression are lack of motivation, significant weight change, thoughts of suicide/homicide, and hopelessness. Link to WEBMD for more info on teen depression
If you spot one or more of those changes, here is how you can help: First, talk to other youth leaders close to the situation as well as with the parents. If you think the child needs professional help, suggest it. You might start recommending they see family doctor or pediatrician. Show your support; make sure they are not withdrawing too much. If you have been working with teens for any amount of time, you know they want to talk when you least expect it, so be gently persistent.
Furthermore, be intentional about staying connected with the kids by using notes, phone calls, or some other form of regular contact from your of one of your team members. As a teen rides out this emotional roller coaster, your consistency can be an invaluable stabilizing influence. Most kids will allow you to hang out with them if there is fun or food involved. Don’t be afraid to hold them accountable for their behavior without demeaning their sense of self.
Sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference between manipulation, neediness, defiance, and normal adolescent development. Whether it’s “horrormones” or any of these other things, keep yourself informed, know your teens and respond like the loving pastoral care provider that you are.
John Thurman is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor, Marriage and Family Educator,speaker, writer, and Board Certified Christian Counselor who lives in Albuquerque, NM. He is a retired Army Reserve Chaplain, former youth pastor who sees teens and their parents in his counseling practice.
Known as the “Get a Grip Guy,” John helps people bounce back from setbacks they may have experienced in their personal lives, and relationship. Need help? Email John