According to a 2007 study, one in four young people are living with a mental disorder, with a further 9% of young people between the ages of 16 – 24 having high levels of psychological distress.
It is also stated that suicide is currently the main cause of death in young people aged 15 to 24. This is particularly distressing given than depression is a treatable condition, but according to statistics, only 20% of teenagers struggling with depression receive help (Black Dog Institute, n.d.).
Depression is a serious mental illness and impacts not just the sufferer, but also the whole family.
Although nearly everybody feels depressed from time to time, it is when this unhappiness lasts longer than 2 weeks and includes a loss of interest in life and normally fun activities, that it is time to seek professional help.
And despite depression having been around as long as human beings, it is possibly still the most under and misdiagnosed disease, because it manifests differently in different people.
What Depression Looks Like in Teenagers
Depression can look very different in teenagers, compared to adults. It is interesting to note that teens with depression do not necessarily appear to be depressed; rather they may seem irritable, angry, and agitated.
Instead of turning their feelings inwards, the depressed young person tends to lash out, directing their feelings of anger towards family and friends.
Instead of withdrawing from people, the depressed teen will draw attention to themselves with disruptive behaviour like getting into fights or vandalising property.
Depression in teenagers is more difficult to identify, as the signs are more obvious in adults.
And while adults have the ability to seek help for depression on their own, teenagers have to rely on parents, teachers and carers to recognise depression symptoms and assist them in getting the help that they need.
There are many factors which can cause depression, either on their own, or in combination: such as a genetic predisposition, traumatic events, and environmental conditions such as living in a dysfunctional household. Prolonged stress makes teens more vulnerable for depression (John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, n.d.).
Symptoms of Depression
Smith and Segal (2017, p. 1&2) list the following signs and symptoms of depression:
- Sadness and/or hopelessness.
- Irritability, anger and hostility.
- Tearfulness or being very emotional.
- Lack of motivation and enthusiasm.
- Withdrawal from friends and family.
- Poor academic performance.
- Drastic changes in sleeping and eating habits.
- Being restless and agitated.
- Having feelings of guilt and worthlessness.
- Struggles with concentration.
- Being tired and lacking energy.
- Aches and pains that cannot be explained.
- Thought of death or suicide.
- King (n.d.) adds another sign, stating that a teenager with depression is also very sensitive to criticism. Because they have feelings of worthlessness, it makes them very vulnerable to criticism, rejection and failure.
In an article called a Parent’s Guide to Teen Depression, Mike King listed the following seven impacts of teenage depression on the teenager AND the teen’s family and friends.
The Impacts of Teenage Depression
- Problems at school. Depression causes low energy and low concentration which can lead to poor attendance, a drop in grades and a decrease in quality of school work.
- Running away. Many of the teenagers that are diagnosed with depression, tend to either run away or talk about running away. This is a way for the depressed teen to cry for help.
- Drug and alcohol abuse. In an attempt to self-medicate, many teens with depression tend to turn to drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately drugs and alcohol make the symptoms of depression worse.
- Low self-esteem. Depression can trigger feelings of ugliness, shame, guilt and unworthiness.
- Internet addiction. In an attempt to escape reality and their problems, the depressed young person turns to the internet. Unfortunately the large amount of time spent online, only increases the teenager’s isolation.
- Reckless behaviour. Some depressed teenagers tend to engage in high-risk behaviours such as driving under the influence of alcohol and driving recklessly, or having unsafe sex.
- Violence. When a teen is depressed due to bullying they can turn to violence themselves.
Treating Depression in Young People
Treatment for depression is very effective but because many teenagers are not diagnosed, they do not receive the correct treatment (Ruffin, 2009). There can be various reasons why teens are not diagnosed with depression, the main one being that the teenage years are renowned for being physically, emotionally and psychologically taxing, so the teen’s behaviour can be dismissed as moodiness (MN ADOPT, n.d.).
If your teenager is diagnosed with depression, there are various treatments available; often a combination of treatments can work well.
Treatments include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and other talk therapies; family therapy; and also supportive education for parents and carers (John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, n.d.). In mild to moderate cases, talk therapy (CBT) alone can resolve the teen’s depression.
In severe cases, antidepressants can be used to ease symptoms of depression. However, there are many side effects and a number of safety concerns around the use of these medications in children and teenagers (King, n.d.), such as: .
- New or more suicidal thoughts.
- Failed suicide attempts.
- New or falling deeper into depression.
- New or increased anxiety.
- Feelings of agitation and restlessness.
- Panic attacks.
- Increased irritability.
- Being aggressive, angry and violent.
- Acting on dangerous impulses.
- Hyperactivity (King, n.d.).
If you notice any of the above in your teenager when they are using antidepressants, it is advisable that you seek professional help urgently.
How to Help Your Teen with Depression
Parents, families and friends can help teens with depression by:
- Offering support. The teenager has to know you are there, and that you are fully and unconditionally committed to help them.
- Being gentle but persistent. Do not give up if the teen shuts you out. Be respectful of the teen’s comfort level but still show that you are willing to listen and are concerned about them.
- Listening without lecturing. Do not criticise and pass judgement on the teen. Keep communication open. Do not offer advice or set ultimatums.
- Validating feelings. Acknowledge the pain and sadness your teen is experiencing, and do not try and talk them out of depression or say they have to “snap out of it”.
Although treatment for depression can take time, and the process of recovery can be unpredictable, not giving up is the key to effective treatment. With a diagnosis and management, your teen will be able to function normally, and lead a healthy and productive life.
Author: Corey Human, B Th, M Counselling. Corey Human has nearly 20 years’ experience working with teenagers and young people at risk, or struggling with self esteem, depression, video game addiction and other problems. He provides counselling to adolescents, adults, couples, parents and families in both English and Afrikaans.
To make an appointment with Counselling Professional, Corey Human, you can try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.
- Black Dog Institute. (n.d.). Depression in adolescents & young people. Retrieved from http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/defaultsource/factsheets/depressioninadolescents.pdf?sfvrsn=2
- Hammen, C. (2009). Adolescent Depression Stressful Interpersonal Contexts and Risk for Recurrence. CDIR, 18(4), 200 – 204.
- John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. (n.d.). Mental Health; the process of managing emotions. Retrieved from http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/psychiatry/specialty_areas/moods/ADAP/docs/ADAP-Booklet_FINAL.pdf
- King, M. (n.d.). Parent’s guide to Teen Depression, recognising the signs and helping your child. Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/parents-guide-to-teen-depression.htm
- MN ADOPT. (n.d.). Teen Depression; fact sheet. Retrieved from http://mnadopt.org
- Ruffin, N. (2009). Adolescent Depression. Virginia Cooperative Extension, 350.
- Wolff, L. (1999). Teen Depression. In Teen issues. San Diego: Lucent Books.