Symptoms of Teen Depression

"I knew there was something wrong - that if I was taller, or had different color hair, or was more popular then I'd be happy. But the problem was inside me. I didn't like myself and I didn't know why."

- Anonymous Teen

Although basic criteria for depression - sleep changes, eating changes, lack of concentration - match in both children and adults, certain aspects stand out in youth. Young people have a hard time coping with everyday activities and responsibilities, difficulty in getting along with others, and/or suffer from low self-esteem. Look for:

  • Missed school or poor school performance
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities once enjoyed
  • Persistent sadness and hopelessness
  • Problems with authority
  • Indecision, lack of concentration or forgetfulness
  • Poor self-esteem or guilt
  • Overreaction to criticism
  • Frequent physical complaints such as headaches or stomachaches
  • Anger and rage
  • Lack of enthusiasm, low energy, or motivation
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Depressed young people who exhibit additional symptoms such as insomnia, panic attacks, and delusions or hallucinations, are at particular risk for suicide. If you have had several of these symptoms, and they've lasted several weeks, or cause a big change in your routine, you should talk to someone who can help, like a psychologist, or your school counselor!


What Is Depression?

"Sadness is a part of it, but you can be sad without being depressed. Depression is deeper and more encompassing."

- Judith Belushi Pisano

Depression is a whole body illness. Clinical Depression is a serious illness that can affect anybody, including teenagers. It can affect your thoughts, feelings, behavior, and overall health.  It affects mood, thought, body, and behavior. It has medical causes just as heart disease and skin cancer do. And just like heart disease or skin cancer, depression won't go away by itself-it is not something you can just "get over". Depression is not a sign of personal weakness. Nor does a person have to feel suicidal to be depressed. Research shows that one in ten people in the United States suffer from depression, however nearly two thirds do not get help or treatment because symptoms:

  • are not recognized
  • are blamed on personal weakness
  • are so disabling that the people affected cannot reach out for help
  • are misdiagnosed and wrongly treated as medical problems.

And, when depression isn't treated, it can get worse, last longer, and prevent you from getting the most out of your life. Remember, you're only a teenager once. With diagnosis and treatment, over 80% of those suffering from depressive illness can feel better, most within a matter of weeks.


Who Has Depression?

"I'm real open about it because I don't see it as any fault. I compare it to diabetes. You're not embarrassed about having diabetes. It's like being right or left-handed."

- psychologist Pat Love

Depression is common. It affects all age groups and all racial and ethnic groups. It affects the rich and poor, old and young, college professor, data processor and auto mechanic alike.

Just because depression is common, doesn't mean it's normal. It is not a part of being an adolescent. It does not come part and parcel with being a woman. Depression is not and never has been a normal part of the aging process for men or women. It can - and should - be treated.

Approximately 4 out of 100 teenagers get seriously depressed each year.  Sure, everybody feels sad or blue now and then. But if you're sad most of the time, and it's giving you problems with: 

  • your grades 
  • your relationships with your family and friends 
  • alcohol, drugs, or sex 
  • controlling your behavior in other ways 

then the problem may be - DEPRESSION  

The good news is.... you can get treatment and FEEL BETTER SOON


Treating Depression

"Depression can kill you, yet this is a treatable condition. It's treatable and yet two-thirds of cases aren't even diagnosed. That's incredible."

- physician A. John Rush

Clinical depression is one of the most readily treatable illnesses. The most commonly used treatments are antidepressant medication and psychotherapy, or talk therapy. If you think you're depressed... TALK TO SOMEONE!

If you are concerned about depression in yourself or a friend, TALK TO SOMEONE WHO CAN HELP. There are many people who you can talk to:

  • a psychologist 
  • your school counselor
  • your parents, or a trusted family member 
  • your family doctor 
  • your clergy 
  • a professional at a mental health center

Remember - Depression can affect people of any age, race, ethnic, or economic group

Having depression doesn't mean that a person is weak, or a failure, or isn't really trying... it means they need TREATMENT.  

Most people with depression can be helped with COUNSELING, provided by a professional psychologist, and some are helped with Counseling and Medicine. 

COUNSELING, or psychotherapy, means talking about feelings with a trained psychologist who can help you change the relationships, thoughts, or behaviors that are causing the depression. Think about it, you feel depressed becasue you think your life is bad.  What if you're wrong? What if you're missing all the good things around you? What if your future holds a lot more promise than you think?  When you're depressed, you're in a rut, and you can't see anything good. You need to talk to someone who can help you get out of that rut! Don't wait, ask your parents, or your school counselor for help today. 

MEDICINE is used to treat depression that is severe or disabling. Antidepressant medications are not "uppers" and are not addictive. When depression is so bad that you can't focus on anything else, when it interferes with your life in an overwhelming way, medication might be necessary, in addition to counseling. But most often, counseling alone is sufficient. 

With treatment, most depressed people start to feel better in just a few weeks.

So remember, when your problems seem too big and you're feeling low for too long,

                           YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

There's help out there and you CAN ask for help. And if you know someone who you think is depressed, YOU CAN HELP. Listen and encourage your friend to ask a parent or a responsible adult about treatment. If you friend doesn't ask for help soon, talk to an adult you trust and respect-- especially if your friend mentions suicide.  Your friend's life is more important than keeping a secret! 

"I have secluded myself from society; and yet I nver meant any such thing. I have made a captive of myself and put me into a dungeon, and now I cannot find he key to let myself out."

Nathaniel, Hawthorne

What About Suicide?

Most people who are depressed do not commit suicide. But depression increases the risk for suicide or suicide attempts. It is NOT true that people who talk about suicide do not attempt it. Suicidal thoughts, remarks, or attempts are ALWAYS SERIOUS... if any of these happen to you or a friend, you must tell a responsible adult IMMEDIATELY's better to be safe than sorry. 

Alcohol, Drugs and Depression 

A lot of depressed people, especially teenagers, also have problems with alcohol or other drugs. (Alcohol is a drug, too.) Sometimes the depression comes first and people try drugs as a way to escape it. (In the long run, drugs or alcohol just make things worse.) Other times, the alcohol or other drug use comes first, and depression is caused by : 

  • the drug itself, or 
  • withdrawal from it, or 
  • the problems that substance abuse causes.

And sometimes you can't tell which came first... the important point is that when you have both of these problems, the sooner you get treatment, the better. Either problems can make the other worse and lead to bigger trouble, like addiction or flunking school. You have to be honest about both problems-- first with yourself and then with someone who can help you get into treatment... it's the only way to really get better and stay better. 



Myths about depression

Myths often prevent people from doing the right thing. Some common myths about depression: 

  • MYTH: It's normal for teenagers to be moody; Teens don't suffer from "real" depression. 
    FACT: Depression is more than just being moody. And it can affect people at any age, including teenagers. 
  • MYTH: Telling an adult that a friend might be depressed is betraying a trust. If someone wants help, he or she will get it. 
    FACT: Depression, which saps energy and self-esteem, interferes with a person's ability or wish to get help. It is an act of true friendship to share your concerns with an adult who can help. No matter what you "promised" to keep secret, your friend's life is more important than a promise.
  • MYTH: Talking about depression only makes it worse. 
    FACT: Talking about your feelings to someone who can help, like a      psychologist, is the first step towards beating depression. Talking to a close friend can also provide you with the support and encouragement you need to talk to your parents or school counselor about getting evaluated for depression.