Being recognized or labeled as a gifted teen is an honor, but that doesn’t make them immune from typical teen struggles. Just because they have higher-than-normal IQs does not mean they don’t suffer from common teenage problems like depression and anxiety.
Teens with superlative intelligence are aware of their exceptional abilities, but they are also acutely aware of their failures. Because of this, they can be just as vulnerable to low self-esteem as non-gifted teens. The pressure to constantly live up to their label of overachiever places gifted teens in the uncomfortable position of never feeling they are free to be average, much less fail at something. Of course no one is perfect, yet the gifted teen often lives in dread of being exposed as less-than-stellar. High stress and high pressure can easily trigger problems like depression or anxiety for gifted teens just as it would for anyone else.
Too Smart For Depression?
In one sense, gifted teens face an even higher risk for depression than average teens. These teens are contemplating harsh realities and difficult life problems well before their peers. They are also highly self-aware. This means that the normal teenage quest for identity and life purpose is even more pronounced for them. The compounded teen angst can easily be internalized and result in what is called existential depression: being overwhelmed by life’s harsh realities while looking for answers to some of life’s deepest and hardest questions.
In addition to their own inner musings, these teens often struggle with social relationships. For many, the awkward genius stereotype is not far off the mark. It isn’t that these teens are incapable of social success, only that it takes considerably more effort to discover and navigate teen society.
Gifted teens aren’t only liable to existential depression — they also face all the same risk factors as non-gifted teens for developing clinical depression. Family history and environment affect them just like other teens in terms of predisposing them for depression or anxiety. And, just like all teens, hormonal changes and stress can also trigger these mental health struggles.
Experts who work regularly with gifted teens say not all of them grow up to become world-famous authors or scientists. Only one quarter of gifted teens fulfill their early quasi-genius status, with many pursuing less visible roles with great success.
Parents can help to sideline some of the risk for depression or anxiety by simply allowing gifted teens to be a regular teenager. Let them know that they are not expected to always be perfect. Avoid verbalizing grandiose expectations. Don’t berate gifted students for performing academically below their ability level; they’re likely already berating themselves.
Parents can also help by equipping them with social skills and tools — connecting with peers may be more challenging so they will need extra guidance. Too often gifted teens are either excused from healthy social development or expected to use their above-average intelligence to figure things out. But that’s not how it works for any teen — proper socialization takes work.
At the end of the day, gifted teens face a higher risk for existential depression and parents need to be aware. On the other hand, the gifted teen faces the very same risk for clinical depression or generalized anxiety as any other teen. In this way, they’re as normal and average as can be.
Read About How Childhood Brain Injuries May Lead To Later Depression