A 16-Year-Old Is Losing Interest In Friends, Cutting School, And Is Irritable. What Should A Parent Do?

John Walkup, M.D., Johns Hopkins

Question: A 16-year-old is losing interest in friends, tired all the time, cutting school, and is excessively irritable. How should a parent respond? What should a parent ask the child?

Answer: When I hear about a 16-year-old who is losing interest in school, cutting classes, tired all the time, and is increasingly irritable, I think about a variety of things but the most important thing for me to consider is really clinical depression. So when I talk with parents who are describing these symptoms to me, I ask them to do a little bigger interview and talk with the child about whether they have problems with regulating their mood, enjoying other pleasurable activities.

Whether there's problems with sleep, whether there's a change in appetite. And importantly whether the youngster has had any thoughts about feeling so poorly that they don't want to live anymore or maybe even have considered suicide.

Those are basic questions that moms and dads can ask to kind of help them try and understand whether the youngster is suffering from a clinical depression or not. 16-year-olds oftentimes though won't necessarily give you honest answers to all those questions.

You have to ask as a parent but don't necessarily rely on the youngster to give you straightforward answers. Sometimes the youngster will cover up and deny that there's anything the matter. So it's important at that point if you're still suspicious that the youngster has depression it's important to talk to the pediatrician.

And if the pediatrician agrees that the parents and the child pursue a clinical evaluation to figure out whether there is a depression. And if so, to use the modern methods of treatment -- cognitive behavioral therapy and medication -- to address that depression and keep the period of depression as short as possible.

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