Seeing Teen Depression For What It Is
I understand the intent: we want to prevent kids and teens from feeling guilty or ashamed when they are struggling.
We want them to understand that mental health issues like these are common and treatable. We donât want them to feel alone. But its also critical they know that their brains are malleable and changeable.
The way we think, develop, relate to others, and handle challenges are critical to good mental health and are components of our human experience that CAN be learned, unlearned, and adapted.
What you believe about yourself and how you view the world are significant factors in both the development and recovery from anxiety, depression, stress, chaotic relationships, and many other issues.
Parents can learn how to help a teen with depression when the family takes a skill-building approach.
Teens are hearing so they tell me when I ask themthat depression and anxiety are permanent, based on hard wiring and/or genetics. While there may be some genetic contribution to anxiety and depression in teens, there is no known anxiety gene or depression gene nor ANY solid scientific proof that fully explains what causes depression.
We do know that the malleability of our brains, our chemistry, and even the genetic expression of our DNA is far broader and influential than researchers believed even 10 or 15 years ago, and we know about risk factors, like trauma, isolation, and social disconnection, to name a few.
What Is Major Depression In Teens
Major depression is a type of mood disorder. Its also known as clinical depression or unipolar depression. There are 3 main types of depression:
Persistent depressive disorder
Major depression goes beyond the days normal ups and downs. It involves a teens body, mood, and thoughts. It can affect and disrupt eating, sleeping, or thinking patterns.
Depression is not the same as being unhappy or in a blue mood. It’s also not a sign of personal weakness. It cant be willed or wished away. Teens with depression cant merely pull themselves together and get better. Treatment is often needed.
How Is Depression In Teens Treated
Effective treatments for depression in teens include talk therapy, or a combination of talk therapy and medicines:
Talk therapy, also called psychotherapy or counseling, can help you understand and manage your moods and feelings. It involves going to see a therapist, such as a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a social worker, or counselor. You can talk out your emotions to someone who understands and supports you. You can also learn how to stop thinking negatively and start to look at the positives in life. This will help you build confidence and feel better about yourself.
There are many different types of talk therapy. Certain types have been shown to help teens deal with depression, including:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy , which helps you to identify and change negative and unhelpful thoughts. It also helps you build coping skills and change behavioral patterns.
- Interpersonal therapy , which focuses on improving your relationships. It helps you understand and work through troubled relationships that may contribute to your depression. IPT may help you change behaviors that are causing problems. You also explore major issues that may add to your depression, such as grief or life changes.
In some cases, your doctor will suggest medicines along with talk therapy. There are a few antidepressants that have been widely studied and proven to help teens. If you are taking medicine for depression, it is important to see your doctor regularly.
Also Check: How Does Anti Anxiety Medication Work
The Risk Of Suicide In Todays Teens
Any threat of suicide should be taken seriously. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger because of thoughts of suicide, please call 911 immediately.
If you do not live in the U.S., please call your local emergency number. Help is always available. Stay on the phone with the operator and wait for help to arrive.
Remember that other people care. If you are not in immediate danger, but want to talk with someone about your suicidal feelings, you can call the National Hopeline Network for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-784-2433. Recognizing the red flags could save a life.
Causes Connections And What Parents Can Do To Help
Teen depression is on the rise, and a parents best strategy to help a child is to promote the development of key skills.
One of the most important aspects of healing and recovering, be it from an injury, depression or a broken heart, is the belief that change is possible. Researchers call this positive expectancy, and when we look at the success of therapy, it figures prominently.
In order to do the hard work of changing or healing, we have to believe that change is actually an option. Recently Ive been bumping into more and more information about depression and anxiety disorders that is saying the exact opposite of this.
In an effort to promote mental health awareness and prompt children, teens and adults to seek help for mental health issues, the messages that depression and anxiety disorders are diseases of the brain that just happen and more disturbinglyare how you are wired or are like diabetes and heart disease have been showing up again and again. Drug ads are major offenders, but not the only ones.
Recommended Reading: Can Anxiety Make Your Throat Feel Tight
A Cry For Help Or Something More
As a parent, I didnt notice the difference between depression and normal 15- and 16-year-old behavior until after the fact, Tracy Peter told the Portland Press Herald. Her son killed himself when he was only 16. What if I had recognized the signs? she wonders. Jurich calls hopelessness and helplessness the Molotov cocktail that triggers teen suicide.
Now lets get to the hope, Borchard says. According to teendepression.org, 80 percent of teens with depression can be successfully treated if they seek the right help. I am part of that statistic. Teen depression doesnt have to mean a lifetime of struggle, and it certainly doesnt have to end in suicide.
Depression Can Be Mistaken For Hormones And Bad Attitudes
Many of us grew up hearing about teen angst and hormonal fluctuations. While it is true that teens experience changes in their hormones, it doesnt mean that they arent depressed. If you dont know how to express how you feel inside, you will act out. It isnt a bad attitude either, another famous excuse for symptoms of depression. When dealing with a depressed teen, or any teen for that matter, we have to be patient and actively listen to what is going on within their mind. They have to know they can trust us enough to listen too.
Recommended Reading: What Is The Best Ssri For Panic Attacks
Signs And Symptoms Of Teen Depression
It can be hard to put into words exactly how depression feelsand we dont all experience it the same way. For some teens, depression is characterized by feelings of bleakness and despair. For others, its a persistent anger or agitation, or simply an overwhelming sense of emptiness. However depression affects you, though, there are some common symptoms that you may experience:
- You constantly feel irritable, sad, or angry.
- Nothing seems fun anymoreeven the activities you used to loveand you just dont see the point of forcing yourself to do them.
- You feel bad about yourselfworthless, guilty, or just wrong in some way.
- You sleep too much or not enough.
- Youve turned to alcohol or drugs to try to change the way you feel.
- You have frequent, unexplained headaches or other physical pains or problems.
- Anything and everything makes you cry.
- Youre extremely sensitive to criticism.
- Youve gained or lost weight without consciously trying to.
- Youre having trouble concentrating, thinking straight, or remembering things. Your grades may be plummeting because of it.
- You feel helpless and hopeless.
- Youre thinking about death or suicide.
Depressed People Can Have Co
Whether depression comes first or not, there are often co-occurring disorders that plague teens. Many will self-medicate through alcohol and substance abuse. Others will have an anxiety disorder that may lead them to cut themselves. Others will have altered eating habits that can lead to an eating disorder. Some will learn they have bipolar disorder and all sorts of mental health problems. Catching depression early can help eliminate some of these problems, or discover and address them.
Don’t Miss: What Does Bipolar Depression Feel Like
Symptoms Of Teen Depression
The signs and symptoms of depression in teens are often different than in adults. Because teen depression often disguises itself as the normal mood swings of puberty or teen angst, it’s often ignored until something serious happens, such as a suicide attempt or risk-taking behavior. Here’s what to look for if you suspect your teen has depression:
- Anger and irritability
The teen years are also a period of physical, emotional, and social upheaval. This alone can cause mood swings and depressed moods. The stress of becoming a young adult can cause bouts of sadness and depression.
Because teen depression can have so many causes and because mood shifts can be so common in teens, parents can have difficulty differentiating between the two. Consult a professional as soon as possible if you suspect depression in your teen.
For parents, this means you should note all depression signs, be aware of your teen’s moods, and discuss your suspicions with your teen’s doctor.
Talk to your teen to learn what could be contributing to their depression. They may be able to give you an answeror they may not know themselves. Either way, talking to your teen will help you keep the lines of communication open while they are working through their depression.
Differences In The Brain
Research has shown that the brains of adolescents are structurally different than the brains of adults. Teens with depression can also have hormone differences and different levels of neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters are key chemicals in the brain that affect how brain cells communicate with one another. They play an important role in regulating moods and behavior.
Recommended Reading: How To Deal With A Bipolar Manic Episode
Warning Signs Of Adolescent Depression
Its important for teens and their friends and family members to know how to recognize symptoms of adolescent depression. Here are 10 of the most common warning signs.
Onset Of Depression More Complex Than A Brain Chemical Imbalance
It’s often said that depression results from a chemical imbalance, but that figure of speech doesn’t capture how complex the disease is. Research suggests that depression doesn’t spring from simply having too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Rather, there are many possible causes of depression, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, and stressful life events. It’s believed that several of these forces interact to bring on depression.
To be sure, chemicals are involved in this process, but it is not a simple matter of one chemical being too low and another too high. Rather, many chemicals are involved, working both inside and outside nerve cells. There are millions, even billions, of chemical reactions that make up the dynamic system that is responsible for your mood, perceptions, and how you experience life.
With this level of complexity, you can see how two people might have similar symptoms of depression, but the problem on the inside, and therefore what treatments will work best, may be entirely different.
This article will address the how different parts of the brain affect mood.
You May Like: Is Schizophrenia A Dissociative Disorder
What Are The Warning Signs For Teen Suicide
Teen suicide is a serious problem. Adolescent suicide is the second leading cause of death, following accidents, among youth and young adults in the U.S. It is estimated that 500,000 teens attempt suicide every year with 5,000 succeeding. These are epidemic numbers.
Family difficulties, the loss of a loved one, or perceived failures at school or in relationships can all lead to negative feelings and depression. And teen depression often makes problems seem overwhelming and the associated pain unbearable. Suicide is an act of desperation and teen depression is often the root cause.
Warning signs of suicide with teen depression include:
- Expressing hopelessness for the future
- Giving up on one’s self, talking as if no one else cares
- Preparing for death, giving away favorite possessions, writing goodbye letters, or making a will
- Starting to use or abuse drugs or alcohol to aid sleep or for relief from their mental anguish
- Defiant behavior
- Acting violently
- Threatening to kill one’s self
If your teenager displays any of these behaviors, you should seek help from a mental health professional immediately. Or you can call a suicide hotline for help.
Depression carries a high risk of suicide. Anybody who expresses suicidal thoughts or intentions should be taken very, very seriously. Do not hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately. Call 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK .
Brain And Neuroendocrine Mechanisms
Both inherited factors and psychosocial stressors can be thought of as distal risk factors, which determine the risk for depression by shaping more proximal biological mechanisms such as activity in underlying neural circuits and endocrine systems.88 The similarity of findings in adolescents and adults suggests that core biological features are shared.
Work in animals not only has shown that the immature, adolescent brain is more susceptible than the adult brain to the effects of these genetic and environmental influences,89,90 but has also identified specific brain regions where changes in circuitry occur.90 Moreover, these regions seem to be the same ones implicated in human brain imaging studies. Two interrelated neural circuits and associated modulatory systems have been closely linked to risk for depression, both in adults and in adolescents. These circuits are active in the response to danger and learning about rewards.91,92
Genetic factors, psychosocial stress, sex hormones, and development have also been linked to changing activity in this circuit,84,94 with evidence that this circuit matures after adolescence. High concentrations of sex steroid receptors have been identified within this circuit,23 and might provide a biological mechanism for why girls have higher risk of depression than boys.
Recommended Reading: How To Get Over A Needle Phobia Fast
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors
SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed class of antidepressants. Theyre preferred because they tend to have fewer side effects.
SSRIs work on the neurotransmitter serotonin. SSRIs prevent the body from absorbing serotonin so it can be more effectively used in the brain.
Current SSRIs approved by the Food and Drug Administration include:
Most SSRIs have only been approved for use in adults. However, fluoxetine has received FDA approval for youth with MDD who are 8 years old and up. Escitalopram has received FDA approval for youth with MDD who are at least 12 years old.
The most common side effects reported with SSRIs include:
- sexual problems
All youth who are taking antidepressants should be monitored for potential side effects. Talk to a doctor if the side effects are interfering with your teens quality of life.
Helping Kids With Depression Get Treatment
Some teens will want to go to therapy when you ask them and some wont. For those who are resistant, know that they arent going to suddenly open up to the idea of therapy quickly, but you can help guide them towards treatment by opening the door and then waiting patiently for them to walk through it.
Try saying, I know youre having a hard time, and I have some ideas of things that could help. If youd like to talk with me about them, let me know. Im here for you. Its also a good idea to ask them if they has any suggestions on how you might be able to help. You might be surprised with what they have to say.
Be aware that your teen might tell you to back off. Thats fine its their way albeit a slightly irritable one of telling you that they need space. Its normal for teenagers to want independence, and its important for you to respect that. You can respond by saying, Ill give you more space, but know that Im here for you if you ever want to talk or hear my suggestions.
If they do come to you wanting help, be prepared. Do your research. Find two or three therapists they can interview and tell them that they can choose the one that they feel most comfortable with, and think will help the most. Finding a therapist who is a good fit is extremely important, and making the choice theirs will help them feel ownership over their own treatment, which is extremely important to teens and sets the stage for effective therapy.
Read Also: How To Handle A Panic Attack At Work
How Can You Spot Depression In A Teen
The symptoms of depression can often be difficult for parents to spot. Depression is sometimes confused with the typical feelings of puberty and teenage adjustment.
- withdrawal from friends or after-school activities
- worsening school performance
Some of these symptoms may not always be indicators of depression. Appetite changes are often normal, namely in times of growth spurts and particularly if your teen plays sports.
Still, looking out for changing behaviors in your teen can allow you to help them when theyre in need.