Teen Depression Explained – The Who, What, Why And More
-- "My daughter Ann, before entering her teens could be described as a vivacious, fun-loving and bubbly girl. She would be seen running around chasing her brothers, climbing up walls, laughing loudly and eating just anything and everything that was put in front of her. Her carefree nature and zest for life were contagious, always surrounded by friends and her brothers, she just illuminated the surroundings with her enthusiasm.
However, since she has become a teenager, her personality has undergone a tremendous change. A change which I am unable to fathom. Ann, the life of every party has suddenly become very quiet. She locks herself in and stays in her room for hours together. She gets irritated easily and does not seem to want to eat anything now. It's like an alien has taken over my daughter's body. I just cannot seem to connect with my daughter. Is my daughter ok?"
- "Carl, my son, is a brilliant student. His favorite subject is Mathematics. A very shy boy, my son mostly is seen buried in books or outside in our garden observing the insects and bugs accumulating food. A gentle soul who would not even think of hurting a fly has suddenly transformed as a teenager. I have been called by the Principal a few times because Carl was seen hitting a few boys. Stunned by this new development, what surprises me all the more is his new interest in 'Heavy Metal' and 'Rock' music. His interest in studies has evaporated, and all I see him doing is listening to this crazy, loud pitched music locked in his room. I feel as though I live with a complete stranger.
Any attempt at conversation results in an outburst of fury and rage. Any communication is made only if he needs food and my son who was a poor eater has turned into this food eating machine who just can't stop. His extreme weight gain and anger worries me. How can I help my son? "
Do you relate to the experiences mentioned above? Do you wonder at the tremendous change in personality of your teenager? Do you struggle to know when to help and when to back off when it comes to your teen?
Possibly the growth phase most dreaded by parents is the "teenage years ." Stuck in the body of an adult with the reasoning ability of a child, many parents can feel overwhelmed by this stage of their child's life. With the world moving at such a fast phase, being a teen is not easy in today's world. Characterized by mood swings and a thirst for autonomy, facing adult-sized problems with still a child-brain, teenagers do have it rough and tend to show that outwardly.
The constant pressure and stress to make the right choice in this overloaded informational age is causing many of our teenagers to succumb to "teenage depression " It's somewhat normal for teens to go through bouts of moodiness as they try to navigate their worlds; however, sometimes moods worsen to the point of clinical depression. It is important for parents to be able to tell the difference.
What Is "Teen Depression"?
Teen depression can be defined as a serious mental condition where the teen experiences prolonged feelings of sadness, negativity, and irritability. These feelings permeate through their social and personal life, causing them to become withdrawn and lonely, thus affecting their self-image and physical life.
Causes Of Teenage Depression
Teenagers of this generation are required to create a mark for themselves and rise from the choices they make. Choices that are confusing, stress filled and chaotic. Very often teenagers themselves don't understand the gravity of the consequences of the choices they have made.
Pleasure seeking and impulsiveness are honored by the media often causing teenagers to make the wrong choices and slide down the road of depression and guilt.
Some of the major causes of teenage depression are:
1) Peer Pressure: According to research the number one cause of teenage depression is "Peer Pressure". Teenagers live for social approval and popularity. Struggling to find acceptance amongst their peers, teenagers are willing to do just anything to be accepted socially in their peer group, even if that sometimes means resorting to substance abuse, sexual abuse or illegal offenses.
2) Body Image (Obesity): Body image plays a major role in affecting the "Self-Esteem" of a teenager. A changing body, appearance of pimples and obesity greatly affect a teen's self-esteem. Also, a teen is more than often judged by their appearances rather than their capabilities. Therefore, the pressure to be seen in the latest fashion and brands is a major cause of stress for our teens.
3) Substance Abuse: With drugs and illegal substances being easily within the reach of a teenager, substance abuse is said to cause major damage to a teenager's sense of worth. An unsafe quest for autonomy and experimenting, driven by pleasure seeking behavior and peer pressure causes many teens to succumb to the ill effects of substance abuse. Substances also have a great, negative impact on a teen's still developing brain.
4) Sexual Abuse: Childhood sexual, physical or emotional abuse more than often manifests itself in the form of teenage depression. The pressure to be socially accepted also makes many a teenager susceptible to sexual abuse or having sex before being really ready for sex and the consequences of sex.
5) Parenting Problems: The stable environment of a family unit plays a major role in the emotional functioning of a teenager. When teens do not have a solid foundation at home, it is more likely for them to get influenced by the media or a wrong set of friends.
6) Long-Term Bullying: Social taunting, exclusion from the group, physical violence and harassment cause teenagers to suffer from high levels of anxiety and depression. Bullying on a consistent basis causes a gradual breakdown of a teenager's self-esteem and self-worth eventually leading to severe depression. Constantly being put down and extreme behavioral corrections by parents during childhood may also cause low self-esteem and depression in teens.
7) Death Of A Loved One: Death of a loved one can be traumatic to a teenager. The inability to resolve this grief or come to terms with this loss can trigger extreme feelings of sadness and depression.
8) Physical Illness /Disability: Studies indicate that teenagers have a strong compulsion to be perfect. A disability or an illness is viewed as a shortcoming or a hindrance because of which teenagers may succumb to helplessness and feelings of depression.
9) Heredity: Teenagers who have a family history of depression are more likely to suffer from depression themselves.
10) Biological Chemistry: Abnormal or impaired neurotransmitters (whose function is to transmit signals to other parts of the brain and body) may also cause teenagers to suffer from depression.
11) Romantic Issues: Breakups, failure in relationships, being cheated …etc. are some major factors that can contribute to depression. Naivety and lack of guidance may cause them to blame themselves for the broken relationships and teens are rarely considerate of one another's feelings during a breakup.
12) Sense Of Failure: Our society forces teens to be very competitive with one another. Poor Grades or other perceived lack-of-achievement may cause a teenager to suffer from a sense of failure. This sense of lack of achievement may lead to low self -esteem and self-worth which can result in depression.
13) Sexual And Gender-Identity: Adolescence is a time when teenagers are discovering who they are and their place in the world. Their sexual development is at its peak in this stage, experiencing all these sensations can be scary and exciting at the same time. However, discovering being different from the norm can be unsettling, i.e. identifying oneself as being gay, lesbian bisexual, transgendered, or other. The fear of being different in an unsupportive environment can be terrifying; being unaccepted and ridiculed for feeling a particular way are major factors leading to depression.
Recognizing Teenage Depression
Teenagers are bound to go through a series of emotional ups and downs. However, there is a difference in behavior when they are experiencing their occasional blues and in the behavior when they are unknowingly slipping into depression. Recognizing and identifying these symptoms early on may lead you to help your teenager before their situation becomes critical.
Look out for the following signs of depression in teens and seek help if they last for more than two weeks:
1) Lack of interest in normal activities/friends.
2) Poor grades and complete neglect of studies.
3) Prolonged feelings of sadness.
4) Neglecting one's appearance (e.g. not bathing for days together)
5) Poor appetite or excessive eating.
6) Inability to sleep well at night/ Sleeping too much
7) Increased sensitivity to criticism.
8) Withdraw from family or friends
9) Lack of energy and motivation
10) Inability to focus or make a decision
11) Increased irritability and anger
12) Hurting oneself -cutting their hands, burning oneself, extreme piercing or tattooing
13) Feelings of shame or guilt
14) Slowed body movements, looking and feeling extremely lethargic
15) Increased restlessness
16) Frequent mentioning of death/suicide
Warning Signs: Seek Help Right Away When You Observe These Signs
1) Direct or Indirect threats to die
2) Giving away possessions
3) Fantasizing Death or preoccupation with weapons
4) Asking questions about your reaction to their death
5) Possession of harmful substances (Poison, pesticides, pills, etc.)
6) Overwhelming sense of guilt
Depressed teenagers are at increased risk for SUICIDE do to the impulsive nature of teenagers. Timely recognition of their symptoms and immediate care and support can save your teen's life and prevent a misery from happening.
If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifelinecan be reached at 1-800-273-8255 and is available to assist 24/7.
Treating Teenage Depression
Teenage depression when neglected can escalate into a life-threatening clinical situation. It is sometimes important that parents take that serious note and seek professional help for their teenagers.
Depression needs to be nipped in the bud and often times it needs a complete evaluation of the family history, the teenager's emotional background and the situations leading to the condition.
Teenagers may not understand the magnitude of the situation they are in and may try to refuse your help. Sometimes parents are perceived as "Enemies" and any offer or act of help is perceived as a threat. In situations like these seeking professional advice or therapy for your teenager may be the best choice.
Taking the matter in your hands and chiding or insisting your teenager to get their act together can make the situation worse. Therapy can help both you and your teenager understand why they are feeling that way and what your child can do to overcome their depression and also learn alternate ways to healthily deal with the various stress factors they are facing.
Depending on your teen's situation a therapist can suggest the following treatment options.
1) Psychotherapy: This therapy helps your teen navigate through the maze of emotions or situations that tend to overcome them. The teen gets an understanding of why he/she reacts in a certain way to certain emotions and learns strategies that help enable them to deal with the situation in a better manner. For e.g. a teenager will be able to handle bullying and his/her bully in a confident and unthreatened manner.
2) Medications: Antidepressants will be prescribed by the therapist to help relieve symptoms of depression in the teenager apart from therapy. In some cases, both therapy and medication will be required, depending on the severity of depression in the teen.
Seeking timely help will go a long way in relieving your teenager's symptoms of depression. Do not blame yourself for your teenager's condition. As parents, one always seeks the best for their child.
Also, seeking help from a therapist does not indicate that your child is mentally unstable or is "crazy". Many parents hesitate to take their child to a therapist in fear of being stigmatized.
There is nothing shameful in receiving therapy. Would you hesitate to take your child to the doctor if he/she is suffering from high temperature? I am sure you wouldn't! Receiving professional help for your teenager could help you save their life and face life as it comes.
Other Commonly Asked Questions
What Is The Leading Cause Of Teenage Depression?
Anyone can live with a depressive disorder, including teens. However, many factors can increase the likelihood of depression or depressive disorders. Risk factors for depression in teens may include but aren’t limited to:
- Family history
- Personal history of another medical condition
- Exposure to trauma
- Low self-esteem
- Grief or bereavement
- Substance use
- Poverty/low SES
If you feel sad, down, or depressed on a regular basis, if you feel hopeless, worthless, or guilty, or if you experience any other symptoms that are a cause for concern, don’t hesitate to start a conversation with your primary care doctor, school counselor, or another adult you trust. Depression is treatable, and symptoms of depressive disorders can improve. Early detection can help teens get help sooner rather than later, which is one of the many reasons as to why it is so vital to talk about teenage mental health and the factors that can impact it.
Is Depression A Part Of Puberty?
Depression is a mental health condition, and while it can occur in people of all ages - including those going through puberty - it is not a part of puberty. Depression in teens is common, but not only that - depression in teens has heightened in recent years. According to 2020 statistics published on the national institute of mental health website, 17% of adolescents experienced a major depressive episode in 2020. The national institute of mental health website also states that the same was true for 8.4% of adults. The upside is that there are a range of treatments and interventions that can help with depression. A meta-analysis of 81 studies on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), third‐wave CBT, and interpersonal therapy-based interventions meant to prevent depression in children and adolescents found that these preventative measures can have small positive effects. Furthermore, it is well-known that talk therapy is effective in reducing depression symptoms for those who are diagnosed with a depressive disorder.
Depression in teens can be tough; it might feel as though family members and other kids don’t understand, and it can come with various symptoms, such as isolation from other people (e.g., friends), a loss of interest in activities, changes in sleep, irritability or becoming easily frustrated, and more. It is not uncommon for people of all ages with depression to feel hopeless, worthless, or guilty, to experience slowed psychomotor activity, and to face other symptoms, like fatigue, that others may notice. If you feel sad, hopeless, or experience other symptoms of depression on a persistent basis, it’s important to reach out to a trusted adult who can help. Examples of a trusted adult to talk with might include your school counselor, family or your primary care doctor at your next physical exam. Anyone can benefit from working with a professional who provides talk therapy, whether they do or do not meet the criteria for a mental health condition or mental illness. After all, talk therapy can help a person not just with depression and other mental health disorders, but also coping with another health problem (such as a chronic physical illness - e.g., IBD or diabetes), stress, relationships, grief, and more.
The national institutes of health has a list of mental health warning signs to look out for in kids and teens. You can find the list on the national institutes of health website here: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/child-and-adolescent-mental-health. There are a number of other featured topics, too, such as ADHD and coping with traumatic events, on the national institutes of health website that you can learn about.
What Is The Most Effective Way To Treat Adolescent Depression?
Antidepressants, talk therapy, or a combination of the two, are all known mental health treatments for depression. A primary care provider may refer a teen to adolescent psychiatry for medication management purposes, if applicable, or they may prescribe medication themselves. A primary care doctor can also refer teens to therapists that work with their age group. A mental health professional who offers therapy or counseling, such as a social worker, counselor, or therapist can help an adolescent find coping skills, improve self-esteem, and meet other goals. Therapy for depression can be conducted online or in person. Group and individual therapy can both support those who live with depression.
BetterHelp does not prescribe medication. Do not start, stop, or change your medication routine without consulting your prescribing doctor.