Teenage depression is defined as “an illness when the feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair persist and interfere with an adolescent’s ability to function.” Often, depression in teens goes undiagnosed and therefore untreated since even normal teenagers can sometimes appear sullen and moody. True depression, however, is an ongoing problem and requires treatment. Left untreated, depression can lead to severe problems, including suicide.
- Frequent sadness, tearfulness, or crying
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Decreased interest in activities or inability to enjoy previously favourite activities
- Persistent boredom or lack of energy
- Social isolation
- Low self esteem and guilt
- Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
- Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
- Difficulty with relationships
- Frequent complaints of physical illnesses, such as headaches and stomach aches
- Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
- Difficulty concentrating
- A major change in eating and/or sleeping habits
- Talk of or efforts to run away from home
- Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-destructive behaviour
- Alcohol and/or drug abuse
Episodes of teenage depression can be triggered by a variety of events. Stress is often sited as a cause, as is loss or trauma. Major events such as these are causes of depression in adults, too. In addition to these traditional triggers, teenager depression can also stem from events that to adults do not seem as overwhelming.
The lives of teenagers are often focused on their social existence, so rejection by peers can be especially difficult for teens to deal with. Repetitive rejection, such as bullying, can lead to a depressed victim.
Family problems can be difficult for teens to handle; they often feel powerless to change things within their families, yet they feel the pressure of living in a troubled environment. Additionally, depression can have a tendency to run in families, so many depressed teens have been living with a depressed parent all of their lives.
Some medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism, can have a pronounced effect on hormone balance and mood. Chronic illness can also cause depression, in adults as well as in teenagers. Once the underlying condition has been treated, the depression usually diminishes. There is also some evidence to suggest that the hormonal changes that happen during adolescence can trigger depression in some kids.
Although experts vary in their opinions, some nutritionists insist that food allergies, especially those to wheat, sugar, and milk, can bring on symptoms of depression. Also, nutritional deficiencies are being considered as possible contributing factors to depression. With proper dietary changes, symptoms of depression may lift entirely.
Treatment of teenage depression typically includes both individual and family therapy. Medication can be helpful, and despite some concerns about side effects, many doctors believe that the benefits of medication outweigh the risks. One of the most important factors in the success of treatment is locating a therapist that your child feels comfortable with and can relate to. In severe cases, especially when the teenager is having thoughts of suicide or has made a suicide attempt, hospitalisation may be necessary.
How to Help
If you suspect that your teenager is depressed, there are some things that you can do to help, the most important of which is to listen. Lovingly let your child know that you are available to help in any way that you can and that you support them. The feeling of isolation and loneliness that accompanies depression can make it hard for your teenager to reach out for help; make it clear that you care and that you are always available.
Do all that you can to get your teenager to be active, both socially and physically. Physical exercise is helpful in lifting depression, as it causes the brain’s chemistry to create more endorphins and serotonin, which change mood.
If symptoms last, or worsen, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Untreated depression can cheat people out of years of their life. Untreated severe depression can cost someone their life.