Teen Depression

What is Depression?

Feeling unhappy or sad in response to disappointment, loss, frustration or a medical condition is normal. Many people use the word “depression” to explain these kinds of feelings, but that is really situational depression, which is a normal reaction to events around us.

There’s a vast difference between “feeling depressed” and suffering from clinical depression. The despondency of clinical depression is unrelenting and overwhelming. Some people describe it as “living in a black hole” or having a feeling of impending doom. They can’t escape their unhappiness and despair. However, some people with depression don’t feel sad at all. Instead, they feel lifeless and empty. In this apathetic state, they are unable to experience pleasure. Even when participating in activities they used to enjoy, they feel as if they’re just going through the motions. The signs and symptoms vary from person to person, and they may wax and wane in severity over time.

Depression Puts Youth at Risk

Research has identified risk factors for suicide, providing hope for treatment and prevention. The 2001 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, published by the US Department of Health and Human Services gives a comprehensive list of risk factors for suicide, including: mood disorders and other psychological disorders, alcohol and substance abuse disorders, and social isolation. Untreated depression has been identified as the leading cause of suicide.

Teen depression is a common problem.

  • Approximately 20 percent of teens will experience depression before they reach adulthood.
  • Between 10 to 15 percent of teenagers have some symptoms of depression at any one time.
  • Depression increases a teen’s risk for attempting suicide by 12 times.
  • 30 percent of teens with depression also develop a substance abuse problem.
  • Depressed teens usually have a smaller social circle and take advantage of fewer career and educational opportunities.
  • Depressed teens are more likely to have trouble at school and in jobs, and to struggle with relationships.

The Difference Between Teenage and Adult Depression

Depression in teens can look very different from depression in adults. The following symptoms of depression are more common in teenagers than in their adult counterparts:

  • Irritable or angry mood – As noted above, irritability, rather than sadness, is often the predominant mood in depressed teens. A depressed teenager may be grumpy, hostile, easily frustrated, or prone to angry outbursts.
  • Unexplained aches and pains – Depressed teens frequently complain about physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches. If a thorough physical exam does not reveal a medical cause, these aches and pains may indicate depression.
  • Extreme sensitivity to criticism – Depressed teens are plagued by feelings of worthlessness, making them extremely vulnerable to criticism, rejection and failure. This is a particular problem for “over-achievers.”
  • Withdrawing from some, but not all people – While adults tend to isolate themselves when depressed, teenagers usually maintain some friendships. However, teens with depression may socialize less than before, pull away from their parents, or start hanging out with a different crowd.

Effects of Teen Depression

The negative effects of teenage depression go far beyond a melancholy mood. Many rebellious and unhealthy behaviors or attitudes in teenagers are actually indications of depression. See the list below for some of the ways in which teens “act out” or “act in” in an attempt to cope with their emotional pain:

Untreated Depression Can Lead to…

  • Problems at school
  • Running away
  • Substance abuse
  • Low self-esteem
  • Eating disorders
  • Internet addiction
  • Self-injury
  • Reckless behavior
  • Violence
  • Suicide

Some of this material was adapted with permission from http://helpguide.org. © 2008 Helpguide.org. All rights reserved