Depression

What are the Symptoms of Depression?

  • Depressed mood or sadness most of the time
  • Lack of energy
  • Inability to enjoy things that used to bring pleasure
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Irritability, anger, or anxiety
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Significant change in sleep patterns (inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get up in the morning)
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Aches and pains (with no known medical cause)
  • Pessimism and indifference (not caring about anything in the present or future)
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

When someone has five or more of these symptoms most of the time for 2 weeks or longer, that person is probably depressed. Teens who are depressed may show other warning signs, such as lack of motivation, poor concentration, and low mental energy. They could also have increased problems at school because of skipped classes. Some teens with depression also have other disorders, and these can intensify feelings of worthlessness or inner pain. For example, those who cut themselves or who have eating disorders may have unrecognized depression that needs attention.

How Is Depression Different From Regular Sadness?

Everyone has some ups and downs, and sadness is a natural emotion. The normal stresses of life can lead anyone to feel sad every once in a while. Things like an argument with a friend, a breakup, doing poorly on a test, not being chosen for a team, or a best friend moving out of town can lead to feelings of sadness, disappointment, or grief. These reactions are usually brief and go away with a little time and care.

Depression is more than occasionally feeling blue, sad, or down in the dumps, though. Depression is a strong mood involving sadness, discouragement, despair, or hopelessness that lasts for an extended period of time. It interferes with a person’s ability to participate in normal activities.

Depression affects a person’s thoughts, outlook, and behavior as well as mood. In addition to a depressed mood, a person with depression may feel tired, irritable, and notice changes in appetite. When someone has depression, it can cloud everything. The world looks bleak and the person’s thoughts reflect that hopelessness. People with depression tend to have negative and self-critical thoughts. Because of feelings of sadness and low energy, people with depression may pull away from those around them or from activities they once enjoyed. This usually makes them feel more lonely and isolated, worsening their condition. Depression can be mild or severe. At its worst, depression can create such feelings of despair that a person contemplates suicide.

Why Do People Become Depressed?

There is no single cause for depression. Many factors play a role including genetics, life events, family and social environment and medical conditions.

Genetics: Research shows that some people inherit genes that make it more likely for them to get depressed. However, not everyone who has the genetic makeup for depression becomes depressed, and many people who have no family history of depression have the condition.

Life Events: The death of a family member, friend, or pet can sometimes go beyond normal grief and lead to depression. Other difficult life events, such as when parents divorce, separate, or remarry, can trigger depression. Even events like moving or changing schools can be emotionally challenging enough that a person becomes depressed.

Family and Social Environment: A negative, stressful, or unhappy family atmosphere can have an affect on some teen's self-esteem and lead to depression. This can also include high-stress living situations such as poverty, homelessness, or violence. Substance abuse could cause chemical changes in the brain that negatively impact mood. The damaging social and personal consequences of substance abuse can also lead to depression.

Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions can affect hormone balance and therefore lead to depression. When these medical conditions are diagnosed and treated by a doctor, the depression usually disappears. For some teens, undiagnosed learning disabilities might block school success, hormonal changes might affect mood, or physical illness might present challenges or setbacks.

How do I get help?

Depression is one of the most common emotional problems around the world. The good news is that it’s also one of the most treatable conditions. About 80% of people who get help for their depression have a better quality of life and enjoy themselves in ways that they weren’t able to before.

Treatment for depression can include psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. Psychotherapy with a mental health professional is very effective in treating depression. Therapy sessions can help people understand more about why they feel depressed and learn ways to combat it. Sometimes, doctors prescribe medicine for a patient with depression. It can take a few weeks before that person feels the medicine working. Because every person’s brain is different, what works well for one person might not work for another.

Everyone can benefit from mood-boosting activities like exercise, yoga, dance, journaling, or art. It can also help to keep busy no matter how tired you feel.

People who are depressed shouldn’t wait around hoping it will go away on its own; depression can be effectively treated. Others may need to step in if someone seems severely depressed and isn’t getting help.

Many teens find that it helps to open up to parents or other adults they trust. Simply saying, “I’ve been feeling really down lately and I think I’m depressed,” can be a good way to begin the discussion. Ask to arrange an appointment with a therapist. If a parent or family member can’t help, turn to a school counselor, best friend, or a helpline.

When Depression Is Severe

People who are extremely depressed and who may be thinking about hurting themselves or about suicide need help as soon as possible. When depression is this severe, it is a very real medical emergency, and an adult must be notified. Most communities have suicide hotlines where people can get guidance and support in an emergency. Although it’s important to be supportive, trying to cheer up a friend or reasoning with him or her probably won’t effectively cause suicidal feelings to go away. Depression can be so strong that it outweighs a person’s ability to respond to reason. Even if a friend has asked you to promise not to tell, severe depression is a situation in which telling can save a life. The most important thing a depressed person can do is to get help. If you or a friend feels unsafe or out of control, get help now. Tell a trusted adult, call 911, or go to the emergency room. 

Getting Through Depression

  • Pace yourself. Don’t expect to do everything you normally do. Set a realistic schedule.
  • Don’t believe negative thoughts you may have, such as self-blame or expecting to fail. This thinking is part of depression. These thoughts will go away as your depression lifts.
  • Get involved in activities that make you feel like you’ve achieved something.
  • Avoid making big life decisions while you are depressed. If you must make a big decision, ask someone you trust to help you.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. Both make depression worse. Both can have dangerous side effects if used with any antidepressant medications.
  • Physical activity can cause a chemical reaction in the body that may improve your mood. Exercising 4 to 6 times a week for at least 30 minutes is an effective goal, although any amount of exercise is helpful.
  • Try not to get discouraged. It will take time for your depression to lift fully.