Teen Depression

February 7, 2010
In the United States alone, it is estimated that severe depression affects more than 15 million people and that 15 percent of them eventually attempt suicide. This is more common than one may think. Depression is now the third-leading cause of death among people aged 14-19, claiming more lives annually than AIDS, diabetes, and cancer combined. What is happening to our teenagers that is making them feel that life is so bad that they have to hurt themselves? Isn’t that the question of the year? Well, let’s consider different types of depression, the causes, and some solutions to this problem of teenage depression.

Depression can be very common for teenagers. There are many different types, such as major depression or clinical depression, dysthymia, adjustment disorder with depressed mood, and seasonal affective disorder. Those are only a few examples though. There are over 200 different types of depression, but the ones above are most likely to occur in teens today. Sadness lasting longer than two weeks is a common symptom of major depression. Clinical depression can prevent teens from finding pleasure in activities they once enjoyed. An adult tends to show melancholy behavior when clinically depression, whereas a teen will become more irritable and angry. Other symptoms of major depression may include sleep disorders, slow in motion, lack of concentration, not involved with social events, frequent changes in mood, declined interest in school, poor grades, loss of self-worth, helplessness, hopelessness, low self-esteem, feelings of guilt, and thoughts of death and/or suicide. Dr. Fredrick Goodwin, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, says that it has been found that teens who share their feeling and problems with adults they trust, tend to be less likely to be in depression. Dysthymia disorder holds the same type of characteristics as clinical depression, but not as severe. This is a chronic illness that lasts much longer than major depression and can start very earlier in childhood. Sometimes, when it starts very early, it can go on for years undiagnosed, assuming the child has always been moody or emotional. Teens with this disorder will struggle every day for a year with despair and hopelessness. If left untreated, a more serious depression may occur. It is possible to completely recover from dysthymia, but some may need maintained treatment throughout their life, according to the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration. Adjustment disorder is the reaction to an event that occurred in the last 3 months. The event could be quite traumatic, or it could be very minor such as breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, moving to a new area, or not getting an “A” in a class they worked hard in. The amount of support from friends and family will determine the severity of the problem. Looking on the positive side of things can also help. Helping them put things into perspective may allow them to see that things will get better and this feeling is only temporary. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) has the same symptoms of depression with the exception of occurring the same time each year during a specific season. A loss of sunlight in the winter months has been a known cause of SAD leaving researchers to believe the importance of sunlight to the brain in producing key hormones that affect mood. Experts believe that one hormone, serotonin, is linked to SAD. High levels of serotonin can act as a shield to fight depression. Serotonin is heightened with exposure to sunlight, but when decreased can cause high levels of depression. Recognizing the different types of depression will allow an open tunnel for learning the best treatment for depressed teens. No two people are alike, and the affects of depression may differ.

“True Depression in teens is often difficult to diagnose because normal teen behavior is marked by both up and down moods,” says Robert Burton, a British scholar. Stress, maturation, the influence of sex hormones, and conflict with parents is all causes of depression. It may also be from a death of a friend or relative, a bad breakup, or failure at school. Teens with a low self-esteem tend to be highly critical of them, and think negatively. Indications of serious depression are bad relationships with family and friends, faltering school grades, persistent depressed mood, and other negative behaviors. Over-sleeping, changing eating habits, and criminal acts are also signs of depression. An obsession with death, either suicidal thoughts or fears of death, is also a common symptom of teen depression.

There are many different solutions and preventions to this problem of teenage depression. Avoiding drugs and alcohol, associating with friends that have positive goals, avoiding things you know will trigger depression, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep are a few good ways to prevent depression in teens today. Anthony Storr, a British psychiatrist, says that teens can fight seasonal depression by just spending a few minutes outside each day, especially in the winter months, and staying active. If you know a teen that suffers from depression, the following things are what you could do for them: talking or listening to him or her, encouraging him or her, being fair with them, and setting a good example. Teens who avoid triggers of depression can often prevent or reduce depression episodes. Teens who suffer from episodes of depression should talk to a doctor, even more so if they are having suicidal thoughts.

Maybe in the long run we can reduce that 15 percent of today’s teens in depression, but it will take a little effort on everyone’s part. I guarantee we would all be better for it.

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