Teenage depression is a common and growing problem. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that teen depression can be found in more than 8% of the teenage population.
Research shows that depression is occurring at an earlier age than it had in the past. If left untreated, teenage depression may become even more severe during adult life. Teenage depression often occurs with other illnesses, including anxiety and disruptive behavior. Abuse of drugs or alcohol is common among those with teen depression.
While early diagnosis can help keep teen depression in check before it becomes too severe, families and physicians often overlook teen depression, sometimes interpreting it as normal behavior attributable to teen mood swings. Young people with teen depression often have difficulty identifying and describing their emotional feelings or moods, which contributes to making teen depression difficult to diagnose.
We all have brief periods of depression, of course, but when feelings of sadness and hopelessness last more than a few weeks, the teenager may be considered to have teen depression that requires treatment.
Teenage depression varies in severity and may be triggered by many factors, such as a traumatic experience, stress or even a change in seasons. Teenage depression affects people in every socioeconomic group.
Medical Impact of Teen Depression
One reason for taking teen depression seriously is that it may increase the risk of suicide. Research supported by the NIMH found that among those who develop teen depression, as many as 7% may commit suicide in their young adult years. Teen depression may also result in various stress-related diseases.
Signs of Teen Depression
People who have depression are sad and often express their sadness by crying. They may have feelings of worthlessness and helplessness. They may be indifferent or feel extreme guilt, and may withdraw from activities they previously enjoyed.
However, teenage depression does not always manifest itself in the same way as adult depression. A depressed teen may be agitated and irritable, instead of seeming sad and hopeless. An individual with teen depression may have headaches and stomachaches, and may have difficulty sleeping. Other signs of teenage depression include an inability to concentrate, a change in appetite and loss of energy.
Causes of Teen Depression
Researchers believe teen depression is caused by a combination of factors. It is often triggered by a major loss, such as through death or divorce, but abuse of alcohol or drugs can cause or complicate teen depression.
Girls are twice as likely as boys to develop teen depression. Recent studies have linked depression, including teen depression, to genetics resulting in an imbalance in the chemicals that allow brain cells to communicate. Close relatives of people with teen depression are more likely than the general population to develop depression.
Treatment of Teen Depression
Many types of antidepressants are available, but they should be used with caution for teen depression. While some newer antidepressants have been demonstrated to be used safely for teen depression, other antidepressants should be used only in severe cases.
Psychotherapy is typically used along with medication. Recent research shows that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is effective for treating teen depression. CBT is based on the belief that those with teen depression have a distorted view of themselves and the world, and the future. CBT helps them to see themselves and the world differently.
Support groups for parents of children with teen depression are important, as parents need to have an in-depth understanding of the illness. Additional research on treatment of teen depression is needed.
Helping Someone with Teen Depression
If you suspect you or someone you know has teen depression, do something about it. Seek professional counseling immediately.