Slamming doors. Deeper conversations. Heavy sighs. A developing friendship between mother and daughter. Exaggerated eye rolling. Disinterested expressions. A growing faith and insatiable desire to know more. Intensely verbal exchanges. Moodiness. Giggles floating on the air at a slumber party. Tears over the latest break-up.
Moms and mentors, we know this delicate dance all too well, don’t we? While the girls we lead, whether in the home or outside of it, may not experience the exact same struggles or ups and downs as you and I once did, they stepped right into the same whirlwind of teen life.
I so remember being there as a teen. My family remembers as well. A few weeks back, I was home for long weekend and my brother and I began to reminisce about our high school days. He said, “You know, back then I knew you went through a lot, dealt with a lot. You were pretty moody.”
Throughout the conversation we talked about how it was more than that, how I struggled with emotions that I just didn’t know how to control, how to deal with, how to handle. But my brother didn’t know then. My parents didn’t know then. We sometimes look back and all of us ask, “What could we have done differently?”
So, I want to help you know what to look out for so that you don’t have to look back one day and ask that question. I don’t claim to have a cure-all. My degree is in Human Services Counseling, so I can’t diagnose these disorders. But I can walk you through what to look for, what’s beyond the normal mood swings of young woman, and speak from plenty of personal experience for many of these issues.
There’s a difference between the normal hormonal changes, teenage desire for rebellion and freedom, typical mood swings, and these things we call mood disorders.
Around 20 percent of young people in North America experience a mental disorder that severely disrupts their ability to function, and about 11 percent of these young people are affected by mood disorders.
When someone has a mood disorder, it means her normal emotional functioning is consistently and considerably disrupted by her emotions or mood. These disruptions can affect her mentally (cognitively), physically, and behaviorally. Mood disorders include major depression, dysthymic disorder, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder.
Major Depression: a mood disorder which causes feelings of despondency, extreme sadness and psychological pain, and a sense of hopelessness. Usually lasts longer than 6 months.
Dysthymic Disorder: Often presents the same symptoms as depression, but they aren’t as intense and don’t last as long. Also called low grade depression.
Bipolar Disorder (formerly manic depressive disorder): A mood disorder that not only includes symptoms of depression, but also includes emotions at the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s an emotional back and forth, characterized by mood swings. These swings from one end of the spectrum to the other are called manic episodes.
Cyclothymic Disorder: Is to Bipolar Disorder as Dysthymic Disorder is to Major Depression. This disorder is characterized by more moderate mood swings, for more than one year. These symptoms do not disrupt one’s life enough to be diagnosed as Bipolar Disorder or Major Depression.
A number of things can contribute to the development of mood disorders: genetics, a chemical imbalance in the brain, prolonged stress, trauma. So, what can we, as mentors and parents look out for?
- Do they talk about being sad or feeling hopeless, empty or worthless?
- Have they disconnected from family, friends, and activities they once loved?
- What does their body language say?
- Do they make eye contact?
- Do they smile more or less?
- Do they seem to cry more easily and more frequently?
- How is their concentration lately? Are they forgetful more often?
- Are they usually positive people, suddenly showing signs of extreme negativity?
- Do they mention suicidal thoughts or seem to have developed an obsession with death?
- Have you noticed any changes in their appetite or sleep patterns? What about their energy level?
- Are their mood swings frequent and extreme?
- Are they unusually joyful, excited, have copious amounts of energy, or exaggerate accomplishments and inflated self-perception?
- Are they easily distracted by almost anything? Do their ideas and words flit quickly from one idea to another?
Ladies, these questions are not to help us diagnose—only a professional can do that. These signs just help us to look out for something more than normal mood swings. Although a young woman may not feel ready to receive help, make sure to let her know you’re available to talk. You can even tell her you’ve noticed her struggling. Some of our girls will be receptive to this, some won’t. But one way to make this process flow smoother is to ask her if she has any ideas for ways you can help her.
And please, if a young woman comes to you and says she thinks she is depressed, if you notice any of these symptoms—take her seriously! It may be no more than the typical teen drama, but what if it isn’t? It’s important to err on the side of caution. In the next post, we’ll talk more about how you can help when a young woman you know is depressed.
by: Stephanie Livengood
 National Institute of Mental Health, “National Survey Confirms that Youth are Disproportionately Affected by Mental Disorders,” September 27, 2010, available online at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/science-news/2010/national-survey-confirms-that-youth-are-disproportionately-affected-by-mental-disorders.shtml.
 Don H. Hockenbury and Sandra E. Hockenbury, Discovering Psychology, 5th ed., (New York: Worth Publishers, 2011), 546.
 Ibid, 547-549.
 Ibid, 550-551.
 Ibid, 547-549.
 Stephane Dowd, “How to help your depressed teenager,” Child Mind® Institute, accessed October 28, 2016, http://childmind.org/article/how-to-help-your-depressed-teenager/.