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Is your teen depressed?

May 08, 2013

In the years that I’ve been working with Teen Xpress as a counselor, I’ve seen many different issues with the students: child abuse, trauma, family struggles, stress management, anger problems, to name a few. However, this year, there is one issue that has trumped all the others by far: depression.

The reason why is a bit of a mystery. Are there higher incidences of teen depression lately? Is it the pressures our teens face? Is it the scary state of the world that we live in? Hard to say, really, but the fact of the matter is that I have worked with more depressed students this year than any other.

Many of the students that I see indicate a family history of depression, but not all. Several of them are able to clearly link the start of their depression to an event, a trauma, or a loss, but some are not. Teens are not that different than adults when it comes to feeling depressed. Sometimes there’s a reason, sometimes there’s not.

Here are some key statistics about adolescent depression:

  • Average age of onset of depression: 14 years old
  • 20% of teens will experience depression at some point
  • 70% will improve through treatment
  • 80% will not get treatment
These statistics are concerning for several reasons. First of all, 14 years old is young to be depressed, but I see it every day, and often in younger kids. Twenty percent of teens translates into 1 in 5.  The statement that 70% of depressed teens will improve with treatment is encouraging, but the statistic that tells us that 80% will not get treatment is scary.

If you have ever been depressed, truly, clinically depressed, then you know how it feels. It feels like you’re stuck under a rain cloud and can’t get out from under it. It hurts to smile. You struggle to find energy to make it through the day. It is a dark, sad, lonely place to be and “snapping out of it” does not work. Teens battling depression feel the same way. And they need our help.

Some common misconceptions

“Those emo kids are all weird and depressed.”

Never judge a book by it’s cover. That little emo girl might just like wearing black, and that cheerleader might be battling some pretty significant mood issues. You just never know.

“He’s only 15, what does he have to be depressed about?”

The world is a fast moving, scary place. Violence, changing environments, cyber bullying, rising costs of college tuition, family troubles, substance abuse, and domestic violence are some of the many challenges our teens face today.

“I’ve had depression. She’s not acting at all like I did. She’s not depressed.”

Depression can manifest in many ways: sadness, irritableness, anger, and apathy, to name a few.

“He just needs to get over it and buck up.”

Sometimes, people can make the choice to be happy and feel happier. However, that’s just not always the case. If someone had diabetes, it would be expected that they would see their doctor, eat right, and take their insulin. People with depression have a medical condition that deserves the same respect as other conditions.

What you can do

If you are a parent, neighbor, caretaker, teacher, or coach with a teen in your care, learn some warning signs. Teens will feel the same feelings as depressed adults do, but may not act the same. Teens who are depressed are likely to have the some, or all, of the following symptoms almost every day, for at least two weeks:
  • Sad
  • Tearful
  • Body aches, pains
  • Low energy, low motivation
  • Little interest in doing things that are usually enjoyed
  • Angry
  • Tired
  • Moving slowly or feeling restless
  • Irritable
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • They may sleep a lot or very little
  • If they sleep a lot, they may be eating a lot. If they are sleeping a little, they may not be eating much.
They may be feeling:
  • Hopeless
  • Worthless
  • Guilty
  • Suicidal
Telling the difference between a teen with depression and a teen without it can be tricky. We all (teens included) have good days and bad days. We all have moments in life where we experience some of the feelings mentioned above. However, if a teen that you care about is exhibiting many of these symptoms, for at least a couple of weeks, and they don’t seem to be coming out of it with support from you and others, then it’s time to talk with a professional.

Check out part 2 of this post, titled

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