Teenage Depression & Eating Disorders: A Parents Manual

Eating disorder.About 3% of adolescents struggle with an eating disorder and 50% of those adolescents also suffer from depression.[i] [ii] Depression is not just a byproduct of eating disorders, however – it’s a mental illness that is increasingly common amongst teenagers. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, approximately 1 in 5 teenagers will experience depression and 1 in 12 will suffer with major depression.[iii]

Due to the guarded nature of many teens, eating disorders and depression can easily go unrecognized and/or untreated, and this can take a great toll on the sufferer’s body and mind. Neither of the two illnesses will just disappear on their own and it is prudent that you recognize the signs of both, so if your teen is suffering, you can get them the help that they need.

Anorexia and bulimia are the most common eating disorders amongst teens. Bulimia can be very hard to identify because most bulimics go to great lengths to hide their disorder and they are rarely underweight. So speak to your teen if you notice the following bulimia warning signs:[iv]

  • Repeatedly eating excessively large amounts of food in one sitting (most bulimics will do this in private, so if you notice large amounts of food disappearing from your kitchen, you should be concerned).

  • Going to the washroom immediately after eating or during meals (listen for running water, which is often used to drown out the sound of purging)

  • An obsession with exercise

  • Damaged teeth and gums

  • Calluses or sores on knuckles and hands

  • Puffy ‘chipmunk’ cheeks

Many signs of bulimia and anorexia are the same and the following could indicate either: [v]

  • A preoccupation with food

  • Repeatedly weighing themselves or talking about their weight

  • Complaining about being fat

  • Depressed or flat mood

  • Irritability

  • Intense fear of gaining weight

  • Social withdrawal

  • Use of laxatives, or weight loss products

Signs that are specific to anorexia:[vi]

  • Denial of hunger or lying about food intake

  • Refusal to eat and/or skipping meals

  • Avoiding whole food groups or eating only a few select ‘safe foods’

  • Practicing rigid eating rituals (such as cutting food into tiny pieces)

  • Noticeable and/or rapid weight loss

  • Thin or gaunt appearance

  • Fainting episode/s

  • Thinning or breaking hair

  • Cold intolerance

Signs of adolescent depression:[vii]

  • Overpowering negative emotions such as sadness, hopelessness, irritability, anger, hostility, agitation or guilt

  • Extreme sensitivity and/or frequent crying

  • Withdrawal from family, friends and/or social activities

  • Internet addiction

  • Alcohol or drug abuse

  • Changes in eating and/or sleeping habits

  • Difficulty concentrating or newly developed difficulties at school

  • Lack of motivation and enthusiasm

  • Fatigue and/or lethargy

  • Unexplained aches and pains (without medical cause)

 If you suspect your child is suffering with an eating disorder or depression, the first thing you need to do is discuss your concerns with them in a calm and supportive manner. Encourage your teen to talk to you about how he or she is feeling and about what is bothering him or her. Both disorders are treatable, but the road to recovery is often long and requires patience and persistence.[viii]

The second step is booking an appointment with your family doctor. He or she can help provide you with affordable treatment options or refer you to free clinics in your area. If you don’t have a family doctor, there may be a school counselor that can help refer your teen to a good mental health clinic or to group or talk therapy. Sometimes a counsellor may request that you attend the session with your teen. If so, be open to this and attend the session with an unguarded and positive attitude. Above all else, let your teen know that he or she is not alone in this battle, that you love them unconditionally and that you will be with them every step of the way, but be careful to do so without being controlling or overbearing.

Resources for eating disorders:

  1. http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/find-help-support?gclid=CMOJko2H4bwCFYkWMgodVh0AFQ (U.S)

  2. http://www.nedic.ca/ (Canada)

  3. http://www.something-fishy.org/

 Resources for depression:

  1. http://erikaslighthouse.org/Get-Help/guide_to_care.html

  2. http://www.helpguide.org/mental/depression_teen_teenagers.htm

  3. http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Resource_Centers/Depression_Resource_Center/Home.aspx

  4. http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/children-and-depression/


[i] http://www.anad.org/get-information/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/

[ii] http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1eat_child.shtml

[iii] http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=By_Illness&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=88551

[iv][iv] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bulimia/basics/symptoms/con-20033050

[v] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anorexia/basics/symptoms/con-20033002

[vi] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anorexia/basics/symptoms/con-20033002

[vii] http://www.helpguide.org/mental/depression_teen.htm

[viii] http://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Resource_Centers/Depression_Resource_Center/Home.aspx