Recent surveys indicate that one in five teens suffers from clinical depression. Over the past decade, depression and its cousin, anxiety, have increased dramatically among teens ages 12 and up. A study by professor Ramin Mojtabai at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health showed the incidence of clinical depression among adolescents ages 12 to 17 grew by 37% between 2005 and 2014, with no difference between urban, suburban, and rural teens. Further, the incidence of self-harm behaviors, like cutting, is also on the rise.
The National Institute of Mental Health Estimates that 3 million teens have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
Despite its prevalence, teen depression can be difficult to recognize. Often, parents think teens are simply going through a phase or chalk up their teen's symptoms to normal adolescent moodiness. Teens themselves may think their is a reason for their depressed mood, such as problems with peers, pressures at school, or difficulties fitting in.
Adolescence is an unsettling time, with many social, physical, and psychological changes. Teens often overreact when things go wrong at school or home. Perfectionistic teens may feel down when grades or sports performance don't match their internal expectations. Sensitive to the opinion of peers, teens can face devastating rejection on social media and some teens deal with deliberate bullying.
With so much pressure coming at teens from so many sides, it's normal for teens to occasionally feel down or overwhelmed. The critical difference is when a teen's mood interferes with his/her day-to-day functioning, when it results in self-harm behaviors such as cutting, or when a teen begins to have dark thoughts of death and suicide. Parents can suspect depression when a teen shows any of the following symptoms for 2 weeks or more:
It is extremely important that a teen with any signs of depression receive prompt, professional treatment. Adolescents are apt to lack self-awareness and to hide their depression from family and friends because they view it as weakness.
The rate of suicide among teens has nearly tripled since 1960 and it is now the third leading cause of death among adolescents. Teens tend to view temporary problems as permanent and can react with impulsive, self-destructive acts. While specific events often trigger a suicide attempts, the real problem is much older and deeper than the trigger. Prompt medical intervention can help teens function at a higher level and be less susceptible to environment triggers such as peer rejection.
Treating teen depression usually involves a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. Often, anxiety coexists with depression so both disorders must be treated at the same time. Until the late 1980s, no effective medication was available to treat teen depression. That has changed and today there are numerous medications that can help teens overcome the brain chemistry component of depression.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is helpful in teaching teens how to see current problems as temporary. It can deal with many of the underlying issues that contribute toward depression, such as low self-esteem, unrealistic self-expectations, or sensitivity to peer rejection. In other words, cognitive behavioral therapy improves the teen's perspective and ability to cope.
If you are concerned about your teen, trust your gut instinct and seek professional help. Break a confidence if necessary in order to make sure your teen (or one of your teen's friends) receives the proper medical intervention. Don't be afraid to act; teens rely on adults for mature guidance and direction. At no time is this more important than when a teen shows symptoms of depression.