Depression is a serious illness that affects your thoughts, your feelings, your behavior, and your overall health.
Adolescence is a difficult time. Ask for help as soon as you suspect that your sad feelings aren’t going away, or are escalating. A medical diagnosis from a mental health professional is the first step in the healing process. Remember, depression does not go away just with will power and a good attitude.
Teenage Depression Symptoms
A medical diagnosis of depression is based on a combination of the symptoms listed below. Your doctor, counselor or psychologist will evaluate your family history, current stressors and overall physical and mental condition. If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, seek medical advice right away.
- Regular episodes of sadness, tearfulness, or crying
- Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
- Persistent boredom or fatigue
- Low self esteem
- Feelings of guilt
- Inability to concentrate
- Acute sensitivity to rejection or failure
- Loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities
- Social isolation, withdrawal
- Difficulty with relationships
- Physical illnesses associated with stress (headache, stomachache)
- Ditching classes often, even when your friends aren’t
- School grades tanking
- Loss of appetite or constant hunger
- Too little or too much sleep, increasing fatigue
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Self-injury or mutilation (cutting, burning, biting)
- Discussion or thoughts of suicide
Causes of Teen Depression
Low self esteem is one of the common causes of teen depression, but it isn’t necessarily the trigger for the disorder. If you have trouble in school (problems with reading, learning, concentrating, or paying attention), you’re at a higher risk for teenage depression than kids who do well in school. If you have problems at home with parents or a stepparent, or if you live in a home with lots of fighting and conflicts, you’re also in a higher risk group.
Some experts believe that teenage girls are at an especially high risk. Others feel that boys suffer just as often but are less likely to speak up about their feelings, and so are less likely to receive a medical diagnosis of depression.
Remember this: You are not to blame! Do not blame yourself for bad things that have happened. Punishing yourself with negative thoughts can make you feel worse and create low self esteem. Give yourself a break and realize that all of us are human and we all make mistakes. All of the time.
It’s a Secret. But Do Tell . . .
Do you have some big secrets? Sure, we all have secrets that we only tell our very best friend. But some secrets are painful because we’re afraid of what might happen if our parents find out. Perhaps one of your friends has told you an important secret and you’ve promised not to tell. You may find that you’re feeling guilty for keeping a secret when it’s clear your friend is not getting help for a problem.
Here are some examples of secrets that should be shared with an adult:
- Your friend is losing weight fast by refusing to eat or throwing up after meals.
- Your friend is cutting herself of himself on his arms or legs, or places that don’t show.
- Your friend is thinking of or talking about suicide.
- Your friend is doing drugs or drinking.
How do you get help without betraying your friend? First, let your friend know that you care, you’re afraid for him or her, and you’re going to talk to an adult about the problem if he or she doesn’t. Offer to go see a counselor or other adult along with your friend. Explain what you’ll say and how you’ll break the ice to get the conversation started. Assure your friend that you’re still going to be his or her friend, no matter what, but you can’t bear to see him or her suffering any more. If your friend refuses your help, be ready for rejection, but do tell an adult . . . you could be saving a life.
A Word to Parents
- Seek professional help: Getting a medical diagnosis is the first step to understanding the difficulties of adolescence and helping your child.
- Step back from the anger: Depressed teens are often irritable, taking out much of their anger on their family. They may attack others by being critical, sarcastic, or abusive. Realize that deep anger is not just a side effect of adolescence — it is one of the most common teenage depression symptoms. And actually, it’s healthier than keeping it bottled inside, where it can turn to self-hate. Seek the advice of a counselor to help you understand and develop strategies for dealing with your child’s anger.