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Adolescent Depression

“Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever gone through. It is that absence of being unable to envisage that you would ever be happy again; the absence of even the tiniest bit of hope. It’s hope that is very deadened which is very different from just feeling sad. Sad hurts sometimes but it’s healthy, even therapeutic. It is a very necessary thing to feel that depression is different. Depression isn’t a condition people can “snap out of,” or simply “cheer up” from. It’s a real medical condition that can affect a person’s life in every manner if it’s not treated properly.”

More commonly referred to as teenage depression, this mental and emotional disorder is no different medically from adult depression. However, symptoms in teens may manifest themselves in different ways than in adults due to the different social and developmental challenges facing teens. These include: peer pressure, sports, changing hormone levels and developing bodies.

Depression is associated with high levels of stress, anxiety, and in the worst possible scenarios, suicide. It can also affect a teen’s personal, school, work, social and family life; and this can lead to social isolation and other problems.Depression isn’t a condition people can “snap out of,” or simply “cheer up” from. It’s a real medical condition that can affect a person’s life in every manner if it’s not treated properly.

Teen depression is a serious mental health problem that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities. It affects how your teenager thinks, feels and behaves, and it can cause emotional, functional and physical problems. Although depression can occur at any time in life, symptoms may be different between teens and adults.

Issues such as peer pressure, academic expectations and changing bodies can bring a lot of ups and downs for teens. But for some teens, the lows are more than just temporary feelings — they're a symptom of depression.

Teen depression isn't a weakness or something that can be overcome with willpower — it can have serious consequences and requires long-term treatment. For most teens, depression symptoms ease with treatment such as medication and psychological counseling.

Symptoms of Depression

The symptoms of depression can often be difficult for parents to spot. Sometimes, depression is confused with the typical feelings of puberty and teenage adjustment. However, depression is more than boredom or disinterest in school, some signs of adolescent depression include:

  • appearing sad, irritable, or tearful

  • changes in appetite or weight

  • a decreased interest in activities your child once found pleasurable

  • a decrease in energy

  • difficulty concentrating

  • feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness

  • major changes in sleeping habits

  • regular complaints of boredom

  • talk of suicide

  • withdrawal from friends or after-school activities

  • worsening school performance

Some of these symptoms may not always be signs of depression. If you’ve ever raised a teenager, you know that appetite changes are often normal, namely in times of growth spurts and particularly if your teenager is involved in sports. Still, looking out for changing signs and behaviors in your teen can help them when they’re in need. It is important to also watch out for behavioural changes such as:

  • Tiredness and loss of energy

  • Insomnia or sleeping too much

  • Changes in appetite — decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain

  • Use of alcohol or drugs

  • Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still

  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements

  • Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches, which may include frequent visits to the school nurse

  • Social isolation

  • Poor school performance or frequent absences from school

  • Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance

  • Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors

  • Self-harm — for example, cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing

  • Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt

It can be difficult to tell the difference between ups and downs that are just part of being a teenager and teen depression. Talk with your teen. Try to determine whether he or she seems capable of managing challenging feelings, or if life seems overwhelming.

What Causes Adolescent Depression?

There’s no single known cause of adolescent depression. Multiple factors could lead to depression, including:

  • Differences in the Brain: Research has shown that the brains of adolescents are structurally different than the brains of adults. Teens with depression can also have hormone differences and different levels of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are key chemicals in the brain that affect how brain cells communicate with one another and play an important role in regulating moods and behavior.

  • Traumatic Early Life Events: Most children don’t have well-developed coping mechanisms. A traumatic event can leave a lasting impression. Loss of a parent or physical, emotional, or sexual abuse can leave lasting effects on a child’s brain that could contribute to depression.

  • Inherited Traits: Research shows that depression has a biological component. It can be passed down from parents to their children. Children who have one or more close relatives with depression, especially a parent, are more likely to have depression themselves.

  • Learned Patterns of Negative Thinking: Teens regularly exposed to pessimistic thinking, especially from their parents, and who learn to feel helpless instead of how to overcome challenges, can also develop depression.

When to See a Doctor

If depression signs and symptoms continue, begin to interfere in your teen's life, or cause you to have concerns about suicide or your teen's safety, talk to a doctor or a mental health professional trained to work with adolescents. Your teen's family doctor or pediatrician is a good place to start. Or your teen's school may recommend someone. Depression symptoms likely won't get better on their own — and they may get worse or lead to other problems if untreated. Depressed teenagers may be at risk of suicide, even if signs and symptoms don't appear to be severe.

The teen years can be extremely tough and depression affects teenagers far more often than many of us realize. In fact, it’s estimated that one in five adolescents from all walks of life will suffer from depression at some point during their teen years. However, while depression is highly treatable, most depressed teens never receive help.

Teen depression goes beyond moodiness. It’s a serious health problem that impacts every aspect of a teen’s life. Fortunately, it’s treatable and parents can help. Additional love, guidance, and support can go a long way toward helping your teen overcome depression and get their life back on track.

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