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Teen Depression

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Updated June 14, 2009

Teen Depression

Depression is a condition that affects approximately 5% of children and teens at any given time, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Depression can cause problems such as difficulties in school, difficulties with relationships, and general decreased enjoyment of life. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide, one of the leading causes of death for teens in the United States. Take the time to educate yourself on this important and difficult subject for the health and happiness of your teen.

What is Depression?

Depression is an illness with many causes and many forms. It is a disorder of someone’s moods or emotions; it is not an attitude that someone can “control” or “snap out of,” but it is treatable with counseling and/or medication.

Symptoms of Depression

A teenager with depression might have some or all of these signs of the illness:

  • Sad or depressed mood
  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in things he or she used to enjoy
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Crying
  • Inability to sleep, or sleeping too much
  • Loss of appetite, or increased appetite
  • Aches and pains that don’t go away, even with treatment
  • Irritability
  • Feeling tired despite getting enough sleep
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Thoughts of suicide, talk of suicide, or suicide attempts

Kinds of Depression

The National Institute of Mental Health states that there are two common forms of depression: major depressive disorder and dysthymic disorder:

  • Major Depressive Disorder, also called major depression, is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person's ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once–pleasurable activities. Major depression is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally. An episode of major depression may occur only once in a person's lifetime, but more often, it recurs throughout a person's life.

  • Dysthymic Disorder, also called dysthymia, is characterized by long–term (two years or longer) but less severe symptoms that may not disable a person, but can prevent one from functioning normally or feeling well. People with dysthymia may also experience one or more episodes of major depression during their lifetimes.

Causes of Depression

There are thought to be many causes of depression. There are most likely many factors behind who develops depression and who doesn’t, and these factors are no different for teens.

  • Traumatic Life Event, such as the loss of a loved one or pet, divorce or remarriage. Any event that causes distress or trauma, or even just a major change in lifestyle, can trigger depression.

  • Social Situation/Family Circumstances. Unfortunately, there are teens who live under difficult circumstances. Domestic violence, substance abuse, poverty or other family issues can cause stress and depression in a teen.

  • Genetics/Biology. It has been found that depression runs in families and that there is a genetic basis for depression. Keep in mind, though, that teens who have depression in their family will not necessarily get the illness, and teens without a history of depression in their family can still get the disorder.

  • Medical Conditions. Occasionally, depression is a sign of another medical illness, such as hypothyroidism, PMS (premenstrual syndrome) or other disorders.

  • Medications/Illegal Drugs. Some legal, prescription medications can have depression as a side effect. Certain illegal drugs (street drugs) can also cause depression.

What Can I Do if I Think My Teen is Depressed?

Talk to your teen about your concerns. There may be a specific cause for why he or she is acting a certain way. Opening up the lines of communication lets your teenager know you care and that you are available to talk about the situation.

Also, talk to your pediatrician or family physician if you have concerns about your teen regarding depression. Your provider may be able to discuss the situation with your teen, rule out a medical reason for the behavior, recommend a counselor, or prescribe medication.

Lastly, DO NOT ignore the signs or symptoms of depression. Depression is treatable and there is help available for both you and your teen. If left untreated, depression can lead to thoughts of suicide or even the act itself.

If your teen talks about suicide or attempts suicide, get help IMMEDIATELY. Your local community should have a 24-hour crisis hotline for mental health emergencies. You can also call the Kristen Brooks Hope Center at 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) for help, 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

Sources:

Child and Adolescent Depression Resource Center. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. July 7, 2008. http://www.aacap.org/cs/ChildAdolescentDepression.ResourceCenter#about

Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. July 7, 2008. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/complete-index.shtml

Depression in Children and Teens. Familydoctor.org. July 7, 2008. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/children/parents/special/common/641.printerview.html

Factsheet: Depression in Teens. Mental Health America. July 7, 2008. http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/go/information/get-info/depression/depression-in-teens

Medical Encyclopedia: Adolescent Depression. Medline Plus. July 7, 2008. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001518.htm

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