By Dr. Julia Messer

Q. My 16-year-old daughter has recently become even more moody than usual. She comes home from school, stays in her room, and only talks to her friends even though she used to talk to the family about almost everything. I’ve also noticed that she has started to complain more about stomachaches and headaches, but our family physician has found nothing physically wrong with her. Is this just normal 16-year-old behavior, or could something more be wrong?

A. The teen years are certainly a challenging time. From the changes of puberty to trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in, teenagers are confronted with numerous pressures. Because they are trying to establish a sense of self, gaining independence by pulling away from parents and guardians is a normal part of the process. Most teens, however, balance these challenges with positive friendships, extracurricular activities, and new hobbies. Occasional bouts of frustration, sadness, or moodiness are normal and to be expected, but depression is different. In general, these normal negative feelings become overwhelming, and hopelessness about their future can lead to despair and anger. The following are signs and symptoms of depression in adolescents:

The mom of the 16-year-old mentioned in the question should consider how long those symptoms have been present and how severe they are. Try talking to her in a nonconfrontational and supportive way, asking if she is experiencing a specific problem or facing a particular challenge. You mention that your daughter is acting different from her usual self, has had an increase in physical complaints, and has begun to withdraw from family members. With this combination of issues, she may benefit from talking to a mental health professional and being assessed further.

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