Adolescent Depression – Helping Depressed Teens
It’s not unusual for young people to experience “the blues” or feel “down in the dumps” occasionally. Adolescence is always an unsettling time, with the many physical, emotional, psychological and social changes that accompany this stage of life.
Unrealistic academic, social, or family expectations can create a strong sense of rejection and can lead to deep disappointment. When things go wrong at school or at home, teens often overreact. Many young people feel that life is not fair or that things “never go their way.” They feel “stressed out” and confused. To make matters worse, teens are bombarded by conflicting messages from parents, friends and society. Today’s teens see more of what life has to offer, both good and bad, on television, at school, in magazines and on the Internet. They are also forced to learn about the threat of AIDS, even if they are not sexually active or using drugs.
Teens need adult guidance more than ever to understand all the emotional and physical changes they are experiencing. When teens’ moods disrupt their ability to function on a day-to-day basis, it may indicate a serious emotional or mental disorder that needs attention, adolescent depression. Parents or caregivers must take action.
Dealing With Adolescent Pressures
When teens feel down, there are ways they can cope with these feelings to avoid serious depression. All of these suggestions help develop a sense of acceptance and belonging that is so important to adolescents.
- Try to make new friends. Healthy relationships with peers are central to teens’ self-esteem and provide an important social outlet.
- Participate in sports, job, school activities or hobbies. Staying busy helps teens focus on positive activities rather than negative feelings or behaviors.
- Join organizations that offer programs for young people. Special programs geared to the needs of adolescents help develop additional interests.
- Ask a trusted adult for help. When problems are too much to handle alone, teens should not be afraid to ask for help.
But sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, teens become depressed. Many factors can contribute to depression. Studies show that some depressed people have too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Also, a family history of depression may increase the risk for developing depression. Other factors that can contribute to depression are difficult life events (such as death or divorce), side-effects from some medications and negative thought patterns.
Recognizing Adolescent Depression
Adolescent depression is increasing at an alarming rate. Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression. This is a serious problem that calls for prompt, appropriate treatment. Depression can take several forms, including bipolar disorder (formally called manic-depression), which is a condition that alternates between periods of euphoria and depression.
Depression can be difficult to diagnose in teens because adults may expect teens to act moody. Also, adolescents do not always understand or express their feelings very well. They may not be aware of the symptoms of depression and may not seek help.
These symptoms may indicate depression, particularly when they last for more than two weeks:
- Poor performance in school
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Sadness and hopelessness
- Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation
- Anger and rage
- Overreaction to criticism
- Feelings of being unable to satisfy ideals
- Poor self-esteem or guilt
- Indecision, lack of concentration or forgetfulness
- Restlessness and agitation
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Substance abuse
- Problems with authority
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
Teens may experiment with drugs or alcohol or become sexually promiscuous to avoid feelings of depression. Teens also may express their depression through hostile, aggressive, risk-taking behavior. But such behaviors only lead to new problems, deeper levels of depression and destroyed relationships with friends, family, law enforcement or school officials.
Treating Adolescent Depression
It is extremely important that depressed teens receive prompt, professional treatment. Depression is serious and, if left untreated, can worsen to the point of becoming life-threatening. If depressed teens refuse treatment, it may be necessary for family members or other concerned adults to seek professional advice.
Therapy can help teens understand why they are depressed and learn how to cope with stressful situations. Depending on the situation, treatment may consist of individual, group or family counseling. Medications that can be prescribed by a psychiatrist may be necessary to help teens feel better.
Some of the most common and effective ways to treat depression in adolescents are:
- Psychotherapy provides teens an opportunity to explore events and feelings that are painful or troubling to them. Psychotherapy also teaches them coping skills.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps teens change negative patterns of thinking and behaving.
- Interpersonal therapy focuses on how to develop healthier relationships at home and at school.
- Medication relieves some symptoms of depression and is often prescribed along with therapy.
When depressed adolescents recognize the need for help, they have taken a major step toward recovery. However, remember that few adolescents seek help on their own. They may need encouragement from their friends and support from concerned adults to seek help and follow treatment recommendations.
Facing The Danger Of Teen Suicide
Sometimes teens feel so depressed that they consider ending their lives. Each year, almost 5,000 young people, ages 15 to 24, kill themselves. The rate of suicide for this age group has nearly tripled since 1960, making it the third leading cause of death in adolescents and the second leading cause of death among college-age youth.
Studies show that suicide attempts among young people may be based on long-standing problems triggered by a specific event. Suicidal adolescents may view a temporary situation as a permanent condition. Feelings of anger and resentment combined with exaggerated guilt can lead to impulsive, self-destructive acts.
Recognizing The Warning Signs
REMEMBER!!! These warning signs should be taken seriously. Obtain help immediately. Caring and support can save a young life.
Four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warnings. Pay attention to these warning signs:
- Suicide threats, direct and indirect
- Obsession with death
- Poems, essays and drawings that refer to death
- Dramatic change in personality or appearance
- Irrational, bizarre behavior
- Overwhelming sense of guilt, shame or rejection
- Changed eating or sleeping patterns
- Severe drop in school performance
- Giving away belongings
Helping Suicidal Teens
- Offer help and listen. Encourage depressed teens to talk about their feelings. Listen, don’t lecture.
- Trust your instincts. If it seems that the situation may be serious, seek prompt help. Break a confidence if necessary, in order to save a life.
- Pay attention to talk about suicide. Ask direct questions and don’t be afraid of frank discussions. Silence is deadly!
- Seek professional help. It is essential to seek expert advice from a mental health professional who has experience helping depressed teens. Also, alert key adults in the teen’s life: family, friends and teachers.
Looking To The Future
When adolescents are depressed, they have a tough time believing that their outlook can improve. But professional treatment can have a dramatic impact on their lives. It can put them back on track and bring them hope for the future.
Depression and Children
All children “feel blue”, from time to time, have a bad day, or are sad. However, when these feelings persist and begin to interfere with a child’s ability to function in daily life, clinical depression could be the cause. Depression is not a personal weakness, a character flaw, or a mood that one can “snap out of.” It is a serious mental health problem that affects people of all ages, including children. In fact, depression affects as many as one in every 33 children and one in eight adolescents according to the federal Center for Mental Health Services.
No one thing causes depression. Children who develop depression may have a family history of the disorder. Family history, stressful life events such as losing a parent, divorce, or discrimination, and other physical or psychological problems are all factors that contribute to the onset of the disorder. Children who experience abuse, neglect, or other trauma or who have a chronic illness are at a higher risk for depression. Depression in children often occurs along with other mental health problems such as anxiety, bipolar or disruptive behavior disorders. Adolescents who become clinically depressed are also at a higher risk for substance abuse problems.
Depression can lead to academic underachievement, social isolation, and create difficult relationships with family and friends. Depression in children is also associated with an increased risk for suicide. In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General estimates that more than 90 percent of children and adolescents who take their lives have a mental health disorder such as depression. The rate of suicide among young people has nearly tripled since 1960.
Once a young person has experienced an episode of depression, he or she is at an increased risk for having another episode of depression within the next five years. Children who experience a depressive episode are five times more likely to have depression as an adult.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
The list below outlines possible signs of depression. If your child or one you know is struggling with any combination of these symptoms for more than two weeks, talk with a doctor or mental health professional.
- Frequent sadness, tearfulness, or crying.
- Feelings of hopelessness.
- Withdrawal from friends and activities.
- Lack of enthusiasm or motivation.
- Decreased energy level.
- Major changes in eating or sleeping habits.
- Increased irritability, agitation, anger or hostility.
- Frequent physical complaints such as headaches and stomachaches.
- Indecision or inability to concentrate.
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.
- Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure.
- Pattern of dark images in drawings or paintings.
- Play that involves excessive aggression directed toward oneself or others, or involves persistently sad themes.
- Recurring thoughts or talk of death, suicide, or self-destructive behavior.
Many teens with depression abuse alcohol and drugs as a way to numb or manage their pain. Any child or adolescent who abuses substances should be evaluated for depression. If an addiction develops, it is essential to treat both the mental health disorder and the substance abuse problem at the same time.
What Should Parents and Caregivers Do?
Depression is treatable. Early identification, diagnosis, and treatment help children reach their full potential. Children who show signs of depression should be referred to and evaluated by a mental health professional who specializes in treating children. The evaluation may include consultation with a child psychiatrist, psychological testing, and medical tests to rule out an underlying physical condition that might explain the child’s symptoms. A comprehensive treatment plan should include psychotherapy and, in some cases, medication. This plan should be developed with the family, and, whenever possible, the child should be involved in making treatment decisions.
Depression in Women
Contrary to popular belief, clinical depression is not a “normal part of being a woman” nor is it a “female weakness.” Depressive illnesses are serious medical illnesses that affect more than 19 million American adults age 18 and over each year. Depression is a treatable medical illness that can occur in any woman, at any time, and for various reasons regardless of age, race or income.
- Approximately 12 million women in the United States experience clinical depression each year.
- About one in every eight women can expect to develop clinical depression during their lifetime.
- Depression occurs most frequently in women aged 25 to 44.
- Many factors in women may contribute to depression, such as developmental, reproductive, hormonal, genetic and other biological differences (e.g. premenstrual syndrome, childbirth, infertility and menopause).
- Social factors may also lead to higher rates of clinical depression among women, including stress from work, family responsibilities, the roles and expectations of women and increased rates of sexual abuse and poverty.
- Women experience depression at roughly twice the rate of men.
- Girls 14-18 years of age have consistently higher rates of depression than boys in this age group.
- Twenty to forty percent of women may experience premenstrual syndrome and an estimated 3 to 5 percent have symptoms severe enough to be classified as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).
- Married people have a lower rate of depression than those living alone. However, unhappily married people have the highest rates of depression; happily married men have the lowest rates.
- Approximately 10%-15% of all new mothers get postpartum depression, which most frequently occurs within the first year after the birth of a child.
- Research shows a strong relationship between eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia nervosa) and depression in women. About 90-95% of cases of anorexia occur in young females. Reported rates of bulimia nervosa vary from one to three out of 100 people.
- Research shows that one out of three depressed people also suffers from some form of substance abuse or dependence.
- Although men are more likely than women to die by suicide, women report attempting suicide approximately twice as often as men.
- An estimated 15 percent of people hospitalized for depression eventually take their own lives.
- Depression in women is misdiagnosed approximately 30 to 50 percent of the time.
- Fewer than half of the women who experience clinical depression will ever seek care.
Fortunately, clinical depression is a very treatable illness. More than 80% of people with depression can be treated successfully with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both.
Women’s Attitudes Toward Depression:
According to a National Mental Health Association survey on public attitudes and beliefs about clinical depression:
- More than one-half of women believe it is “normal” for a woman to be depressed during menopause and that treatment is not necessary.
- More than one-half of women believe depression is a “normal part of aging.”
- More than one-half believe it is normal for a mother to feel depressed for at least two weeks after giving birth.
- More than one-half of women cited denial as a barrier to treatment while 41% of women surveyed cited embarrassment or shame as barriers to treatment.
- In general, over one-half of the women said they think they “know” more about depression than men do.