Alexithymia is a mental disorder first identified in the 1970s that makes people unable to identify and express their own emotions and those of others. Some studies estimate that 8 percent of males experience this disorder. Alexithymia is relatively rare, but patients with the condition aren’t always the only ones who have trouble recognizing their own emotions. The average teen boy, besieged by pressure from friends, school and family, often gets very tongue-tied and uncomfortable when discussing his emotions.
This is part of the reason depression can be very difficult to notice, let along diagnose, in a teenage boy. Kids, especially teens, are moody, and a lot of depression’s symptoms – mood swings, sudden changes in appearance, diet and so on – can look like ordinary teens being teens. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that 2 percent of children under the age of 10 have depressive symptoms – and between the ages of 10 and 14, that rate can increase to 5 to 8 percent for children overall.
Here’s what to look for:
- A lack of interest in former hobbies – or a sudden interest in new, dangerous ones. Males experience depression in different ways than women do. Depression can make boys lose interest in activities they used to enjoy, and it can make them turn toward more thrilling and dangerous activities for relief, like gambling or driving recklessly after getting a new license. Depression’s also a risk factor for substance abuse, which leads to…
- Self-medication. Kids who use drugs do so for relief. The relief from a secret beer or painkiller snatched from a medicine cabinet is only temporary, however. Drug abuse becomes tolerance, which in turn leads to larger doses to experience the same perceived relief, which in turn leads to addiction. There are plenty of other dangers from self-medication as well: impaired driving, injuries from falls due to behavior from lowered inhibitions and potential assaults from attempts to score drugs.
- Tiredness and fatigue. Depression uses up a lot of energy, and wreaks havoc with sleep patterns. A tired teen may not just be a night owl for the sake of staying up late – the anxieties and worries depression creates in its patients may be the cause.
- Disinterest – or conflict – with friends and family. Depression isolates. Every teen goes through drama with their acquaintances and family, but it’s also another sign of depression.
- Putting their best face forward. Another way males express depression is their habit of convincing others (along with themselves) that they’re fine and that their behavior is normal. Self-depreciating or sarcastic humor about their own depression – or the emotions of others – is also a sign.
- Language choices. Teens often use language that can come off as dramatic, but overly fatalistic, angry and sad word choices can indicate depression – particularly in a teen who has never spoken that way before.
- Thoughts of or even attempts at suicide. There is currently something of an epidemic of suicide among men, particularly older white men. Depression in youth can become depression in adulthood, becoming depression throughout life. Worse, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports an alarming gender difference in depression: While depressed women are more likely to attempt suicide, depressed men are much more likely to succeed.
Depression isn’t a bad mood – it’s a serious mental condition with physical symptoms. Treatment helps – the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states nearly 80 percent of the people who receive treatment for their depression show improvement within two months. Unfortunately, it’s also a disease that often goes untreated. Over half of children aged 8 to 15 with a mental illness never receive treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health.
For some boys, ordinary treatment isn’t enough, particularly if the symptoms are accompanied by antisocial, violent or drug-seeking behavior. White River Academy is a therapeutic boarding school located in rural Delta, Utah. Staffed by compassionate experts in education and treatment, our school creates a caring, nurturing environment which will help your son reach his full potential. For more information, please contact our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years.