According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 264 million people face depression worldwide. Statistics on teens say that 13.3% of those aged 12-17 in the United States have experienced at least one major depressive episode. So, what are the facts about depression, and in what ways can you find help when you're struggling?
Depressive disorders are a group of mental health conditions that anyone can experience. Having these symptoms is not your fault, and depression is something that can impact people of all backgrounds. It is a mental illness that can come with physical symptoms as well as emotional, social, and psychological symptoms, usually in the form of cognitive distortions and negative behavior patterns. If you notice signs of depression in yourself, it is important to reach out for help and find a support network through resources such as online therapy services. Here are some common symptoms:
Slowed motor activity, restlessness, excessive crying, and various other symptoms may be present in those experiencing depression. Depression may be situational in some cases, but in the case of specific disorders, the battle against the negative thoughts and feelings is ongoing - particularly if symptoms are left untreated or unaddressed. There are a number of different depressive disorders, and people experience them in different ways. To receive a formal diagnosis and start relieving your symptoms, you must see a medical or mental health professional who is qualified to treat mental health conditions. If you’re feeling depressed on a regular basis, discussing your symptoms with a healthcare professional will be a crucial step in learning how to address them and getting professional help, especially if experiencing thoughts of harming yourself, as they are trained in suicide prevention.
Common types of depressive disorders include:
Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)
Major depressive disorder or MDD is one of the most commonly diagnosed depressive disorders. Episodes are marked by symptoms of depression that occur at the same time and last for two weeks or more. Research shows that while the median age of onset is 32.5, someone can be diagnosed with MDD at nearly any age.
Persistent depressive disorder, also known as PDD or Dysthymia, is an example of a disorder that is characterized by an ongoing or persistent low level of depression. To be diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder, one must experience symptoms of depression for two years or more.
PMDD is a disorder where a person who experiences menstrual periods faces severe symptoms before their menstrual period. It is similar to PMS as far as the timeframe in which symptoms occur goes, but the symptoms of depression are more extreme. You may experience any of the symptoms above if you have PMDD in addition to common PMS symptoms and other symptoms, such as feeling out of control and anxiety or panic attacks. With PMDD, symptoms will alleviate within a couple of days of beginning your menstrual period.
Depression is a real mental health condition, and treating or overcoming depression is not as simple as ordering someone to "just be happy" or telling someone that they "don't have a reason to be sad." The truth is that the symptoms of depression can impact anyone and anyone can start feeling depressed at any point. People of all backgrounds and life circumstances face feelings of depression, and no matter how good you have it in life, clinical diagnoses aren't easy to live with, and they can increase the risk of other mental health conditions, such as alcohol use disorder or engaging with other substances, in general. This is because people often resort to alcohol and substance abuse as a way to cope with their negative feelings and emotions.
In addition to therapy, which you’ll learn more about later in the next section, there are plenty of self-care tips out there that can truly make a difference in how you feel and your ability to cope with depression. For example, according to nutritional psychiatry, what we eat can affect our mood and well being.
Although you might have difficulties eating properly or at all, try to avoid eating processed foods and drinking alcohol and start eating a healthy diet which includes items like lean meats, leafy green vegetables, fresh fruits, and whole grains, as these can help if you have low folic acid or energy levels and assist with weight management. Make sure to drink plenty of water, as well. There isn’t a magic diet that you can eat that will cure depression, but the little things you do in your life can add up and collectively make an impact.
Similarly, if you’re feeling depressed, it can be hard to motivate yourself to get some exercise, but it’s well-established that regular exercise can have a positive effect on us and improve mood through different means. For example, by releasing endorphins that help us feel good and can promote sleep.
In fact, one systematic review and meta analysis from a medical journal speculates that depression may be associated with a lack of exercise. Exercise can also help you burn off calories if you’ve experienced unwanted weight gain in recent times due to your diet and depression, and creating goals for yourself and accomplishing them will improve your sense of self esteem. Even going for a walk in your neighborhood or local park on your own or with another person is considered exercise and is a big step in the right direction. Any doctor with authoritative experiences will tell you that exercise should be part of any healthy lifestyle.
Thirdly, related to the connection between exercise and sleep, focusing on your sleep quality and finding tips to improve it can make a significant difference in your mood each day since your brain and overall health depends on it. Understandably, just like how depression can make it hard for a person to eat well and affect one’s desire and motivation to exercise, it can also be difficult to sleep properly because of its effects on the brain. However, by learning ways to go to bed relaxed and finding good sleep hygiene, you can start small and improve the amount of sleep you get each night as well as the quality of it, which, naturally, will help you start feeling better.
In general, to add to your wellness toolbox, try to do things that make you feel good. Some examples might include listening to your favorite music, watching a funny movie, or spending time with family members.
Whether you’re facing difficulty with friends and family, including spending time with them or not answering their phone calls, symptoms of a mental health condition like depression, or anything else that's on your mind, therapy can be a true game-changer. There are a number of different ways to talk to a counselor and find therapy for teens online or near you, which can help you develop a plan to cope with stress that you can use every day.
Parents and teenagers can find teen therapy from mental health and wellness professionals with relevant experience in treating depression by seeing their primary care doctor or physician and asking for a referral to a therapist, contacting their insurance company to see who they cover, joining a support group, or by using a reputable online therapy platform like BetterHelp (18+) or TeenCounseling (13-19). Peer reviewed studies show that online therapy can be an invaluable service and can be just as effective for treating and helping you overcome depression as traditional methods, and it is confidential, giving you a place to talk freely and securely process your thoughts with a person who truly cares. It's also often more affordable than traditional in-person counseling or therapy is in the absence of insurance. Regardless of how you find a therapist, you deserve quality care.