What are the Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment Options for Teenage Depression?

Depression is one of the most common mental health disorders in the world. An untreated depressive disorder is also physically and emotionally debilitating. While most people will experience their first depressive episode in their late twenties, a sizable minority of people will suffer from depression as a teenager.

Feeling sad, or experiencing mood swings and irritability are normal parts of growing up. But sometimes, these symptoms can be indicative of a more serious issue. It can be difficult for parents and guardians of teens to recognize and understand that their teenage son or daughter is going through depression, and not just typical teenage angst. It’s important for loved ones to know the symptoms of depression and where to turn to for help. The following article will explore the signs and symptoms of depression and what the treatment options are for teens with the disorder.

Teen Depression

How many teenagers suffer from depression in the U.S.?

Approximately 3.1 million teens between the ages of 12 and 17 suffer from depression in the U.S. About 12% of the U.S. teen population is suffering from a major depressive episode each year. Teenage girls suffer from depression in higher numbers than adolescent boys, at 19% and 6%, respectively. Although teen girls are more at risk of having depression, white, teenage boys are at higher risk of attempting suicide. Major depressive episodes are more common among teens who are of two or more races.

Why do teenagers get depression?

Depression, being one of the most common mental health disorders in the world, is an equal-opportunity illness. Anyone, of any age, can suffer from depression. But certain situations and issues that are prevalent during the teenage years can increase the chances of young adults experiencing the disorder.

Adolescence is a time of marked change and upheaval. It can be exciting, yet also a stressful time. It’s not uncommon for teenagers to experience mood swings, or to feel sad or down on occasion. Many emotional, physical, and social changes happen during the teen years that can contribute to negative emotions.

But, when teenagers encounter unrealistic expectations, either from themselves or others, it can lead to deep feelings of disappointment, shame, or rejection. If something traumatic or unsettling happens at home or school, teens can feel especially stressed and hopeless. Because of the physiological changes that occur in teenagers, they are particularly prone to stress, and sadness. But when these feelings begin to disrupt daily functioning, it can be a sign of depression.

What are the signs and symptoms of adolescent depression?

Surveys indicate that about one in five teenagers suffer from major depressive disorder. Depression in teenagers can be challenging for adults to recognize because they often expect teenagers to exhibit mood swings. In addition, teenagers are often not equipped to cope with negative feelings and the ability to express them in healthy ways. They also may not realize that what they are feeling is a serious condition. Teens are more likely to become withdrawn instead of asking adults in their lives for help.

It’s also critical for parents and guardians to understand that teen depression looks a little bit different than depression in adults. While adults may be likely to experience marked feelings of sadness and fatigue, teens are more likely to experience increased irritability and anger. Teens are also more likely to exhibit physical symptoms of depression than adults, including aches and pains, or digestive issues. If the following symptoms are present for at least two weeks, then it could be depression:

  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Expressing feelings of self-loathing and shame
  • Lashing out and increased irritability
  • Fatigue and lack of motivation and energy
  • Overreacting to criticism
  • Sudden decrease in school performance
  • Indecision, forgetfulness, and problems concentrating
  • Changes in sleep and eating habits
  • Expressing suicidal thoughts or engaging in self-harm
  • Unexplained aches and pains

Also, teenagers with untreated depression may experiment with drugs, alcohol, or promiscuous sex to alleviate and also distract themselves from symptoms. They are also at risk of expressing their feelings of hopelessness and shame through risk-taking behaviors. Unfortunately, these behaviors lead to other problems, increased stress, shame, and fuel the cycle of depression. Teens can risk ruining their relationships with their friends or family members, or getting into trouble with law enforcement or school authorities.

What can be done to help teenagers with depression?

When teens start to feel stressed or down, it’s vital that they engage in positive activities and coping mechanisms to prevent their feelings from turning into clinical depression. Parents and guardians can encourage their teen to make new friends. Healthy friendships are a key factor for providing teens with a much-needed social outlet and boosting their self-esteem.

Encouraging teens to participate in a job, sports, or after-school programs or hobbies can also help curb feelings of loneliness and frustration. Social programs that are geared toward teenagers needs are also ideal for giving adolescents confidence and the ability to develop confidence and emotional resilience. Despite family and friends’ best efforts, teens can still get depressed.

Depression is not a character flaw or a moral failing. Teens with a genetic vulnerability to depression, or who experience traumatic events and have a personality type that is prone to feelings of sadness can still experience the disorder despite their efforts to protect against it.

For teens with depression, cognitive behavioral therapy is incredibly effective for helping manage and alleviate symptoms. Medications can also be helpful, but in most cases, talk therapy is enough to help teenagers manage depressive symptoms. It’s important for loved ones to be patient and supportive when teens are depressed, and never to ignore talk about suicide or self-harm. If your teen makes comments like the following:

  • I wish I’d never been born
  • The world would be better off without me
  • I wish I were dead

Or if they start to give away their possessions and participate in increasingly erratic or risky behavior, it’s critical for loved ones to act quickly. Suicide is a major threat to teens with depression. Call the toll-free suicide prevention hotline if you’re concerned that your teen is considering suicide.

Watching your son or daughter go through the symptoms of depression can be a terrifying, sad, and overwhelming experience, but there is help for you and your family. The therapists at Mission Harbor Behavioral Health are experienced in treating teenagers for depression. Please contact Mission Harbor today to explore your options for depression treatment.

The facilities at Mission Harbor are staffed with trained experts to best assist patients with their mental health issues. We are capable of dealing with any and all cases with a licensed staff, equipment, and approved techniques. Our mission is to help those who want to help themselves, and we support your decision in seeking help.

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