Sadness, frustration, anger and boredom are part of a normal array of emotions at any stage of life. However, these feelings can become overwhelming. If they are interfering with day-to-day life, causing significant distress and not going away, they may signal depression. Adolescent depression is a mental illness that affects teenagers. Depressed mood, behaviour and ability to function occur in episodes and may last weeks to month. An untreated episode of major depression in a teenage lasts on average seven to nine months, perhaps even as long as two years and may repeat.
Adolescent depression may be brought on by stress at home, school, work, or at extracurricular activities. Depression has a genetic link. Teens who have blood relatives diagnosed with depression are more likely to develop it. Those already diagnosed with anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), learning disability or chronic debilitating illness are more at risk. So are teens living in a dysfunctional home environment, experiencing physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
According to recent research, significant psychological turmoil affects about two of every ten teenagers ages 13 to 19. Previously we thought that emotional instability in adolescence was a natural stage in behaviour development. However, today we know that around 20 per cent of teens experience a major depressive disorder. Twice as many girls experience depression as boys. This trend continues into adulthood. Many researchers believe that adults diagnosed with depression may have had first signs and symptoms in their teenage years.
To diagnose depression in adolescents, doctors look for clues. Symptoms will fit set criteria of a major depressive episode. Depressed and irritable mood or loss of interest and pleasure must be one of the symptoms. This should be present most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks. Other symptoms may appear at the same time. Someone with depression might experience the following symptoms:
Negative thoughts and feelings
Decline in day-to-day function
If you think you are depressed, see your medical doctor. Symptoms of depression can also indicate other illnesses, such as thyroid dysfunction, vitamin B12 deficiency, mononucleosis, HIV infection, post-concussive syndrome or lupus. If your doctor suspects illness is causing your symptoms, blood tests can make the diagnosis. However, no blood test can confirm depression. A medical professional can tell the difference between illness and depression and treat you appropriately.
Depending on your particular case, treatment may include:
If you have life threatening complications such as a strong urge to commit suicide, a failed suicide attempt or severe mental distress despite treatment, you may need to go to hospital.
Your parents or guardians usually play an important part in diagnosis and treatment, as they are your main support system. Medical professionals encourage family to get involved whenever possible. Their involvement may improve your chance of recovery.
Chances are that your family doctor will be the one to diagnose depression. At this time, you will get advice on the best combination of treatment, which may include a referral to a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist or a counsellor. Major depression can also be a part of a different mental illness, such as bipolar mood disorder or schizophrenia. These conditions may require additional medication and referrals to a specialist.
If this is your first episode of major depression, treatment may last anywhere from nine to 12 months. Unfortunately, even with medical help you have a high chance of experiencing another episode within the next five years.
Only a fraction of teenagers who experience symptoms of depression are identified and given proper help. It can be very difficult for parents and peers to recognize subtle clues of depression. The stigma around mental illness may stop teens from recognizing the problem and getting help.
However, ignoring depression has the potential to affect your whole life. Academic failure, social withdrawal, failed relationships, addiction to various substances, criminal convictions and permanent injury or death can all be linked to untreated depression.
Many teens and their families actually feel relief after diagnosis. Their symptoms have an explanation, and they are not alone in their illness and the journey back to good mental health.
A variety of mental health resources are available on the internet. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website (www.aacap.org) is one reliable source for anyone wanting to know more. As with any problem, getting the information you need can make your experience easier.
Teens with depression suffer greatly, sometimes silently. Often they are without proper medical help. In extreme cases, depression can be a death sentence. Although there are no quick fixes, many treatment options are available for this chronic disease. Help is only a doctor’s visit away. If you see symptoms of depression, please don’t wait. The price of ignoring or missing depression in a teen is just too great.