Adolescent Identity and Depression: Why and What To Do...?

Struggles with adolescent identity and depression usually set in when an adolescent experiences a loss. The most important loss in their lives is the changing relationship between the adolescent and their parents (McCoy 15).

They are no longer the cute, little child that once experienced love no matter what they did. Now it often feels like their parents' love is "with strings" because they are growing into an adult and therefore are given higher expectations and more responsibilities.

Often teenagers are confused as to what their parents expect of them and feel like they are always complaining about something, whether it is their torn jeans, choice of music or choice of friends. Adolescents long for the time when they could do anything and their parents would love them attributing their “faults” to their child-like immaturity.

"Depreciation, rejection and the inability to live up to high parental expectations can cause significant loss of self-esteem and trigger reactive depression in adolescents" (McCoy 15).

Teen depression can be extremely intense at times because of physical and hormonal changes but emotional instability is part of being a teenager. Their changing mind, body and relationships often present themselves as stressful and that change, they assume, is something to be feared.

How Younger Teens and Older Teens Struggle Differently With Adolescent Identity and Depression.

There’s a difference in how older and younger teens show their depression. Research has shown that younger adolescents tend to display destructive and antisocial activity. They show anger towards other people and themselves. They tend to have an external method of coping by punishing the world and themselves as a result of feelings of being a terrible person (Myers 27). As a way of coping with an unpleasant and depressive home life, some teens run away to escape it.

Older adolescents have a tendency to cope more internally and be apathetic, bored, tired, feeling worthless and restless. Some older teens may still act out externally but this would be an indicator that their emotional development has not yet met their age and maturity level to where it should be (Myers 27).

Your Depressed Teen's Home Life

The most important factor in a teen’s life is her home life. If she lives in a family with relational conflict and stress, she will be prone to suffering from depression because she is not yet equipped to know how to deal with the conflict of adults around her. (Beach 91). Her struggle with adolescent identity and depression is almost always directly related to her home life. Children of parents with depression are also 2-5 times more likely to develop depression or other mood disorders (Beach 89).

What’s the best thing for a teen struggling with adolescent identity and depression?

The most effective strategies for teens have been counseling therapy where a counselor shows them how to recognize their negative thinking patterns and turn them into positive ones. Common ways to do this has been through individual therapy, group therapy and skill training (Arnett 439, 440).

Myers writes that there are also many ways that the adolescent can cope without seeking professional help. Making a conscious effort to put things into perspective and see them differently in their present way is the best way to cope. This includes checking their assumptions about themselves and others. Adolescents could make a list of some good things in the past and set realistic and achievable goals for the future. Confiding in friends has also proven to be helpful, as this would make the adolescent feel less isolated and lonely. Chances are, their friends are feeling the same way (Myers 108-110).

Investing in family relationships and developing positive perceptions about life situations reduces adolescent depression. (Colomba, Santiago and Rosello, 1990).

What parents/care givers can do?

If you are a parent or guardian, I’m glad you’re reading this!

Here’s a must read for you…

How To Really Love Your Teen- Ross Campbell, MD

Here are some helpful links…

Twenty Free Ways to Love Your Child

How To Connect With Your PreTeen

Understanding Adolescent Identity and Depression

A Parent's Guide the Teen Years

Notes on Adolescent Identity and Depression:

Arnett, Jeffrey Jernsen. Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: A Cultural Approach. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education Inc., 2004.

Beach, Steven R.H., ed. Marital and Family Processes in Depression. Washington: American Psychological Association, 2001.

Colomba, Marangelí Velázquez, Emily Sáez Santiago and Jeannette Rosselló. “Coping Strategies and Depression in Puerto Rican Adolescents: An Exploratory Study.” Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Vol. 5(1), February 1999: 65-75. PsycARTICLES Database.

Garber, Judy, Nancy Shanley and Bahr Weiss. “Cognitions, Depressive Symptoms, and Development in Adolescents.” Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Vol. 102(1), February 1993: 47-57. PsycARTICLES Database.

McCoy, Kathleen. Coping With Teenage Depression: A Parent's Guide. New York: New American Library, 1982.

Myers, Irma and Arthur Myers. Why You Feel Down-And What You Can Do About It. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1984.