What is teenage depression? Everybody feels bummed out now and then. We all have our "blue moods," like maybe right before our periods; or feel disappointed from not getting on a sports team or being dumped. Feeling sad in cases like this is appropriate and is not teenage depression. Clinical teenage depression is a whole other thing. It's not just about being sad or disappointed about some event in our lives. It's a serious, even life-threatening, illness that needs medical attention. The good news is that most depressed people respond really well to the new medications and therapies available. If you think your sadness goes beyond feeling bummed out, or you know someone who may be depressed, read on about teenage depression. If the symptoms describe you, then don't wait another minute to get help. What are the symptoms of teenage depression? If you have clinical teenage depression, you would have of these symptoms (including the first two) at least 5 : for at least 2 weeks Feel depressed all the time Lose interest in things you used to like Have a big change in your appetite Sleep a lot or not much at all Feel anxious or high energy all the time, or the opposite (have really low energy almost everyday) Feel tired and have no energy Feel bad about yourself (low self-worth/low self-esteem) Feel confused; have trouble making decisions Think about death or suicide What causes teenage depression? We react to things in life (like a disappointment) with our whole selves —our brains and emotions. Chemicals in the brain and hormones can get off balance. Sometimes this imbalance happens because we have an inherited tendency for it (it's in our genes). Sometimes stress triggers it. Teenage depression usually affects us emotionally and physically. Women especially tend to get physical symptoms when they are depressed. Who gets teenage depression? Depression is two or even three times more common in women than in men. Our hormones may be a reason for this. We know that premenstrual moods are related to hormones. Teenage depression also occurs. Six percent of 9 –17 year-olds have teenage depression. In 1997, suicide was the third-leading cause of death in 10 –25 year-olds. As a teen, maybe you aren't great at expressing your feelings. Teens usually can't, won't or don't tell others how bad they feel, so they put off getting help. Also, your parents or teachers might just think you're being moody and not take it seriously, even though it might be teenage depression. There are some things you should look for in yourself if you think you have teenage depression. You might: Have frequent, weird physical aches and pains Miss school or see your grades drop Try to run away or talk about running away Have outbursts of crying or shouting Feel really bored most of the time Have much less interest in being with friends Use alcohol or drug Feel really sensitive to rejection or failure Feel irritable, angry or hostile Have some reckless behavior (before driving wildly) Have a hard time with relationships Don't "Tough teenage depression out." If you thought you had a broken arm, would you wait for it to get better on its own? If you had a really bad respiratory infection, would you think you were a bad person? The point is: Teenage depression is an illness. It's not your fault if you have depression. Treat it like any other medical condition and get the help you need. Be honest with yourself. If you think you have some of these symptoms and you can't snap out of it, don't suffer and tough it out. Talk to your parents or another trusted adult —teacher, school counselor, someone at your church or temple. (There are also some numbers for you to call at the end of this article.) By the way, a symptom of depression is hopelessness. So if you're reading this thinking "nobody can help me," you already have one symptom. How is it treated? We now know a lot more about depression, and many new treatments are available. All of this PR (including all the bad jokes about Prozac) has actually helped to remove the stigma from taking medication for mental health problems.
If you or someone you know is having a problem with teenage depression, contact these agencies: www.ifred.org —The International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (800) 442-4673. Referrals, outreach for teens program.
www.nami.org For people with mental illness and their families. —National Alliance on Mental Illness (800) 950-NAMI.
Read about teenage depression and learn how to improve your life from BeingGirl.com.