For many teenagers, the senior year of high school brings a roller coaster of emotions, including the anxiety of final exams, the excitement of prom and trepidation about college admission decisions.

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Faced with so many life changes and added stress, some teenagers may develop mood disorders such as depression that can affect their performance at school and their relationships with friends and family. Studies have shown that approximately one in five teenagers has a diagnosable mental health disorder, including mood disorders.

Marissa Leslie, MD

Marissa Leslie, MD

“While moodiness in teenagers is common, prolonged periods of sadness lasting for two weeks or more might signal a more serious problem that parents shouldn’t ignore,” says Marissa Leslie, MD, medical director of outpatient services at Adventist HealthCare Behavioral Health & Wellness Services in Rockville.

The most noticeable sign of depression in teenagers is withdrawal from social activities. “Teenagers who once looked forward to activities such as soccer, basketball or ballet may no longer show an interest and spend more time isolated from family,” Dr. Leslie says.

Other signs of a mood disorder include lethargy, changes in appetite or sleep habits, feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.

Parents who notice these warning signs should seek help from a licensed behavioral health professional. Early diagnosis and treatment using psycho therapy or medication can help teen agers with mood disorders lead healthier, more productive lives.