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ASK RENE: TEEN DEPRESSION


Hi Rene,

I have a stepson who is 15-years-old. The problem is “nothing” and a whole lot of it. All he wants to do is “nothing.” He never does anything without specifically being told to do it – everything from feeding the dog to taking a shower. He’s home for the summer and if I do not suggest stuff for him to do (go to the park, go to the library, call up a friend, etc.) he’ll do absolutely nothing.

I know teenagers are often viewed as lazy. But when I think back to myself at that time, my laziness was mostly reserved for what my mother wanted me to do. I had plenty of energy for my own plans and schemes.

He doesn’t seem to have any plans.

He does rather poorly in school – a straight C- average.

He has friends, mostly girls.

I don’t have other kids, so I’m not sure how to react.

I’ve been wondering if he’s depressed, but am sure that idea would go over like a lead balloon to his father.

What do you think? What would be evidence of true and treatable depression?

Thanks in advance, Melissa


Dear Melissa,

Thank you so much for writing. The fact that you reached out means that you sense there could be more here than meets the eye.

I spent last summer with my nephew, my first time being in such close proximity to teenagers for that amount of time. He played a lot of video games and shot some hoops but did an awful lot of eating and sleeping. In fact, he slept so much I had to mention it to my sister. I point that out because it’s important for you to distinguish what is normal teen behavior from that which is abnormal.

But I do think there is enough evidence here to be concerned. The fact that your stepson doesn’t seem to do anything unless he’s told actually sounds like normal teen behavior. But his lack of drive in school and not seeming to plan for the future might need further examination.

Has he been tested for ADHD? I ask because his struggles in school could be related to that. Children with ADHD sometimes have what are called co-morbidity factors, other conditions that exist alongside the attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Anxiety and depression are two of those. It’s terrible cycle of events; if he cannot concentrate in school, he gets bad grades, he gets bad grades, it worsens his mood and underlying depression, if that is what’s going on here.

Could he be gay? You mentioned his only friends are girls. Does he not feel comfortable around other boys? There is so much to sort out as a teenager and sexuality is part of that. You might check out P-FLAG for ideas on how to start that conversation.

Finally, has he been checked for depression? I think in society, as adults we wonder what in the world these kids have to be depressed about? But clinical depression is different from “feeling blue” from time to time or a bad mood. Has anyone in his family ever been diagnosed? Depression, which usually starts between ages 15 and 30, does run in families. Is his behavior different now than from the last time you saw him?  Have you noticed a change in the last several weeks? Has he been hopeless about the future? Giving away prized possessions? Abusing drugs and/or alcohol? Sleeping a lot or a little? These are all some of the warning signs of depression. This is very serious because with depression comes the risk of suicide. Reports indicate nearly 500,000 teens try to kill themselves each year with 5,000 actually succeeding. Suicide is the leading cause of death among adolescents and anyone who talks of killing himself or herself should be taken very seriously. If you hear that, please call suicide prevention. (1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-273-TALK 1-800-273-8255).

It’s time to talk, Melissa, to your stepson, to your husband, to your stepson’s doctor.  If you have a good relationship with your stepson perhaps you could discuss some of these things with him. If he’s like most teens, you’ll probably get monosyllabic answers to go with the rolled eyes and subtle head shakes. But he might also open up, relieved to know that someone is worried about him.

With your husband, arm yourself with knowledge and information about the disease. Depression is not something that will go away if untreated and it’s definitely not enough to say “man up” and get over it. It is a medical condition that requires professional care. You probably don’t make medical decisions for your stepson but you can certainly register your concern as you are doing now.

Lastly, the boy needs a comprehensive evaluation by his doctor. There is no real test for depression rather the doctor will make that diagnosis based on interviews with family, friends, school officials and the teen himself. Once the diagnosis is made, you can get on the path to treatment.

I must reiterate that I am not a doctor, just a mom with an abundance of common sense and the wherewithal to use it.

Melissa, I wish you the best of luck at getting to the bottom of this!

Do you have a question for Rene? She’s full of opinions and answers! Click here and fire away.

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Combing the aisles at Target in search of the best deal on Cheerios, it hit Rene Syler like the stench of a dirty diaper on a hot summer’s day. Not only is perfection overrated its utterly impossible! Suddenly empowered, she figuratively donned her cape, scooped up another taco kit for dinner and Good Enough Mother was born.

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