by Dr. Gloria Walters
Depression in adolescents is a serious illness that is often misinterpreted as teenage moodiness or overlooked all together. Many teens do experience “the blues” or intermittent melancholy as a result of hormonal changes, interpersonal turmoil and issues related to identity development.
However, approximately 4% of teenagers in the U.S. suffer from serious depression and this number is even higher in areas with pervasive economic hardship and community violence.
What is depression?
Clinical depression is a treatable psychological disorder. However, when left untreated, it can lead to a number of difficulties in the lives of these teens, including problems at home, academic failure, behavior problems, low self-esteem, drug abuse, self injury, violence, and suicide.
It is important that those who live and work with adolescents be aware of the signs and symptoms of clinical depression in order to advocate on their behalf and assist them in getting the help they need.
Signs and Symptoms
Some symptoms associated with serious depression in teens include:
• Deep sadness, hopelessness and/or irritability most of the day, almost every day
• Loss of interest in activities nearly every day
• Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
• Frequent crying or tearfulness
• Loss of enthusiasm and motivation
• Withdrawal from family and friends
• Changes in eating and sleeping habits
• Difficulty concentrating
• Increased fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
• Thoughts of death or suicide
If you notice a change in your teen’s mood and/or behavior and at least 5 of these symptoms have been present for your teen within the same 2-week period, you should consider clinical depression as a possible explanation.
What can you do to help?
In order to help a depressed teenager, the first step is to talk to them about it in a supportive and non-judgmental way. These tips from http://helpguide.org are useful to consider before talking to your teen.
TIPS FOR TALKING TO A DEPRESSED TEEN
Offer support Let depressed teenagers know that you’re there for them, fully and unconditionally. Hold back from asking a lot of questions (teenagers don’t like to feel patronized or crowded), but make it clear that you’re ready and willing to provide whatever support they need.
Be gentle but persistent Don’t give up if your adolescent shuts you out at first. Talking about depression can be very tough for teens. Be respectful of your child’s comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.
Listen without lecturing Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your teenager begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating. Avoid offering unsolicited advice or ultimatums as well.
Validate feelings Don’t try to talk teens out of their depression, even if their feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Simply acknowledge the pain and sadness they are feeling. If you don’t, they will feel like you don’t take their emotions seriously.
Depression can be managed if it is treated. Some treatment options include individual, group or family counseling/psychotherapy and anti-depressant drug therapy. Psychotherapy alone is a good initial treatment and may help to resolve depression. If it doesn’t, however, anti-depressant medication may be necessary. These medications should only be used with adolescents if traditional talk therapy is ineffective.
Other things you can do include having the teen visit their primary care physician or a specialist, such as a psychologist or school counselor, as well as encouraging physical and social activity for them.
Adolescent depression is a serious illness that can affect every aspect of a young person’s life. Fortunately, it is a disorder that can be managed if treated effectively. Support from family, educators, mentors, and friends can facilitate treatment and offer hope to youth struggling with depression.
Gloria Walters, PhD is a Cognitive Behavioralist in Los Angeles, California.