Depression is a Serious Mental Illness
Teen depression is a potentially serious mental health condition that causes persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities. It affects how a teen thinks and behaves, and can negatively impact school, family, and social functioning. Depression among teenagers is much more common than most realize. If you are a parent concerned about possible depression in your child, you are not alone. After noticing the signs of depression, it is important to get the help and treatment your teen needs, and to understand the root cause of their depression. This can help to make the situation more manageable for everyone involved.
Recognizing Teen Depression
It is often difficult to detect teenage depression. Even responsible parents will dismiss symptoms in their child as “just being a teen.” Feeling moody, sad, or grouchy is normal, especially among teenagers; however, if these feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or irritability persist for weeks, months, or even longer, your teenager may be suffering from depression..
It is common for teens to struggle with the idea that they are “not enough.” These feelings often underlie depression and other mental issues, and make it difficult to participate in usual activities. Depression often leads to a lack of motivation or energy, making it hard to enjoy life or even get through the day. For teenagers who struggle with depression, things that once brought them joy can lose their meaning.
Without treatment, minor depression can quickly augment into major depression. Even if your teen admits to feeling hopeless, depression can improve with professional treatment.
A Real and Treatable Illness
Depression is a real, treatable mental illness. Depression can be caused by big transitions in life, stress, or changes in your teen’s body chemistry that affect their thoughts and moods.
Depression is pervasive. Your teen is not going through this alone, and as a parent, neither are you. Below are statistics given by the National Institute of Mental Health.
- 20% of American youth will experience some degree of teen depression
- In 2015, 3 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode. This equals 12.5% of the US population in this age range
- In 2015, 2.1 million adolescents had a major depressive episode with severe impairment. This equals 8.5% of the US population in this age range
- Teens are more susceptible to depression than adults
- 30% of depressed teens develop substance use disorder
10 Common Causes of Teenage Depression
Adolescence can be a very turbulent and difficult time, even for a well-adjusted teenager. And while this is by no means a comprehensive list of all causes of teen depression, these ten situations are very common contributing factors to depression in teenagers.
- Academic Stress – Teens are under an enormous amount of pressure to succeed academically. Stressing over classes, grades, and tests can cause one to become depressed, especially if they are expected to excel at all cost or are beginning to struggle with their course load.
- Social Anxiety or Peer Pressure – During adolescence, one learns how to navigate the complex and unsettling world of social interaction in new and complicated ways. Popularity is important to most teens, and a lack of it can be very upsetting. The appearance of peer pressure to try illicit drugs, drinking, or other experimental behavior can also be traumatic for teens that are hestitant to give in, but are afraid of being further ostracized through refusal.
- Romantic Relationships – In adolescence, romantic entanglements become a much more prominent and influential part of life. From breakups to unrequited affection, there is a plethora of ways in which budding love lives can cause teens to become depressed.
- Traumatic Events – The death of a loved one, divorce, instances of abuse, or other traumatic events can have a significant impact on teens, causing them to become depressed or overly anxious. In the aftermath of a trauma, it’s wise to keep an eye out for any changes in your teen’s behavior or signs of depression.
- Separation or Divorce – Divorced or separated parents might be more common today than it was in generations past, but that doesn’t mean that the situation has no effect on your teen’s emotional wellbeing. The dissolution of the family unit or even the divorce of a parent and step-parent can be very upsetting for teens, often leading to depression.
- Heredity – Some teens are genetically predisposed to depression. If a parent or close relative has issues with depression, your teen may be suffering from it as well.
- Family Financial Struggles – Although teenagers are not typically responsible for the financial needs of the household or given the task of balancing a budget, that doesn’t mean that they are unaffected by a precarious financial situation within the family. Knowing that money is tight can be a very upsetting situation, especially if one is worried about the possibility of losing their home or the standard of living they are accustomed to.
- Physical or Emotional Neglect – Though teenagers may seem like fiercely independent beings that want or need nothing from their parents, they still have emotional and physical needs for attention. The lack of parental attention on either level can lead to feelings of depression.
- Low Self-Esteem – From a changing body to the appearance of pimples, it may seem to your teen as if Mother Nature herself were conspiring against them to
negatively affect their level of self-confidence. When self-esteem drops below a certain point, it’s not uncommon to become depressed.
- Feelings of Helplessness – Knowing that you’re going to be affected on a personal level by things you have no control over can easily throw anyone into the downward spiral of depression. Feelings of helplessness and powerlessness often go hand in hand with the struggle with depression, and can make the existing condition even more severe.
Most likely, you have seen the signs of depression affect your teen at home and at school. If problems at school have not yet arisen, they may be on the horizon. The persistence of teen depression over an extended period is a warning sign. As a parent, you need to examine the severity of what is happening and be ready to act. Asking these questions will help:
- Do you think your teenager is going through normal growing pains?
- Is your child experiencing a significant change in functioning?
- Does this change signal the onset of a major depressive episode?
- Does your son or daughter appear to need professional help?
The Different Types of Teen Depression
Major depression can rise in bouts that can last for weeks. It deeply affects the quality of life and health of the individual. Persistent depressive disorder reduces basic functioning. Melancholic depression is a subtype of major depression. It leads to extreme irritability and excessive worrying. Some symptoms include waking very early in a negative state of mind or an inability to get back to sleep. Seasonal depression is most often triggered by winter due to a lack of sustained sunlight. The end of summer when school is about to begin can trigger it as well. Some experience depressive symptoms at the same time each year. Atypical depression has several specific symptoms. These symptoms include increased appetite/weight gain, excessive sleep, and marked fatigue. They also can include emotional overreactions, and an extreme sensitivity to rejection. Psychotic depression includes many symptoms that define psychosis. The extreme symptoms lead to a severe mental disorder. Impaired thoughts and emotions mean that contact with external reality becomes lost. Bipolar disorder is a serious form of depression. Sufferers experience extreme highs and lows, oftentimes over a very short period.
The Need for Treatment
A new article reveals that most teens that struggle with depression do not receive treatment. Each year, almost 2-million teens report having experienced an episode of major depression. However, only 30 percent of them receive treatment for the symptoms of anxiety, sadness, guilt, and irritability. These findings were revealed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in an effort to raise awareness around the severity of mental health issues in children. The study indicated that nearly 15 percent of teens had considered suicide in the previous twelve months, and the findings helped inform which children are at greater risk in order to implement the proper interventions and therapies to prevent injury and death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 4,400 American adolescents and young adults commit suicide annually, and another 150,000 receive treatment for self-injuries. The Center confirms that the majority of children who take their own lives had a diagnosable and treatable mental health condition and often exhibited symptoms in the months leading up to their suicide. The study also revealed that children who reported symptoms of depression were more likely to engage in addictive and abusive behaviors involving drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.
How You Can Help Your Teen
When kids are young, parents are accustomed to swooping in and rescuing them whenever they need help. As your children get older and their problems become more complex, you have to transition into more of a supporting role, and that can be difficult. This is especially true with teens who are struggling with depression. They need help to get better, but first they have to want that help. While you can’t make your teen want to get better, there are some things that you, a guardian, can do, and it starts with simply being there for your teenager.
- Be supportive – One of the most important things you can do for your teen is to work on strengthening your relationship. Try to build empathy and understanding by putting yourself in their shoes. You might be frustrated if your teen appears down and irritable a lot of the time and doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything to help themselves, but if there isn’t much in their life that is making them happy, or something intensely disappointing has happened to them, it’s understandable that they might avoid things they used to enjoy and retreat to their room. Depression makes performing the smallest tasks more difficult. Try to validate their emotions, not their unhealthy behavior. Make it clear that you want to try to understand what’s troubling them without trying to problem-solve.
- Avoid the appearance of judgment – Even parents with the best intentions often don’t realize that their concern can come across as critical rather than loving. Do not be judgmental or try to solve your teen’s problems, even if you disagree with their point of view. Listening to your teen talk about their problems might seem as though you’re highlighting the negative, but in fact, you’re letting them know that you hear them, you see them, and you’re trying to understand — not fix them. People don’t like to be fixed. Listening without judgment will actually make your teen more likely to view you as an ally and someone they can turn to when they are ready to talk. For some parents, this can feel passive, as though you’re not doing enough. But being there for him and communicating your acceptance of him is exactly what he needs from you right now. It’s actually a very active way to strengthen your relationship.
- Focus on the positive – Make sure you’re noticing the positive things your teen does. Your teen is likely very aware of all their “disappointing behavior”, they do not want to feel this way and do not need reminders about what is not going well in their life. Make sure you are the one to highlight their accomplishments, accentuate the positive.
Our Treatment Modalities
Muir Wood provides a number of treatment modalities that can benefit the depressed teenager including:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – CBT focuses on untangling muddled thoughts and by identifying the emotions that cause your teenager distress. This form of individual counseling helps the brain form positive thought processes and often provides insight for the depressed teen. During CBT, teens learn coping skills to manage depression and deal with psychosocial stressors. They can also explore the triggers of depression and how to mitigate those triggers in the future.
- Group Therapy – In addition to individual therapy, we utilize group therapy as a core treatment modality in order to provide a structured place where developmental challenges are normalized and shared. In their search to belong and achieve social acceptance, teen boys will seek a group or tribe where they may find acceptance and strength. Many of the boys who come to Muir Wood have been unable to sustain membership in emotionally reliable and safe groups of peers. In addition, many of the boys at Muir Wood have complicated their efforts to negotiate this complex developmental phase by their use of mood-altering substances.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) – DBT is slightly different in its approach to addressing patient’s views as compared to other therapeutic interventions included in the CBT classification; it provides patients with a mixture of traditional problem-solving strategies as well as acceptance strategies. This means that patients are encouraged to accept the issues, situations, or relationships that they define as negative rather than deny that they exist or ignore the problematic issues they present. This therapeutic method also focuses on helping the patient to understand the thoughts that govern their actions. It is commonly used to treat those suffering from multiple issues or disorders (e.g., substance abuse and behavioral issues like ADHD or mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, eating disorders). Here at Muir Wood, we include the provision of dialectical behavioral therapy in the treatment plan of patients when it is indicated by their intake evaluation and diagnostic process.
In addition to CBT, DBT, Group, and Outdoor Therapy, there is an array of other creative therapies that help to add positive influence to your teen’s life and help begin to establish healthy new habits and lifestyle choices. Some of these therapies can include: massage, exercise regimes, dietary changes, sleep therapy, music, and art. At Muir Wood, we are dedicated to tailoring therapies to your teen son’s unique and individual needs.
For many teens, medications, if indicated through a thorough physical and psychological assessment, combined with therapy, are an effective way to treat depression. Medications, when prescribed appropriately, such as antidepressants, can help teens in the following ways:
- Improve mood
- Improve appetite
- Increased focus
- Resolve sleep disturbances associated with depression
- Decrease anxious symptoms that can occur with depression
- Decrease depressive symptoms that can trigger suicidal thoughts
Getting the Treatment Your Teen Needs
Professional help can ease the symptoms of teen depression. At Muir Wood, we can help uncover and heal the root causes of the affliction. As your teen finds the calm and peace they long for, the healing process will begin, and where there was darkness and pain there will be light and relief.
Some teens will want to go to therapy when you ask them, and some won’t. For those who are resistant, know that they aren’t going to suddenly open up to the idea of therapy (or to you), but you can help guide them towards treatment by opening the door and then waiting patiently for them to walk through it.
Finally, Care for Yourself
It’s important to ensure that you’re taking care of yourself. It can be emotionally and physically exhausting to be a parent of a teen struggling with depression. Know that you are not alone, and get support for yourself. Make sure that you make time to do things you enjoy and find quiet time for yourself to recharge.
Get Answers Now
Call an admissions specialist at Muir Wood today and get answers to all of your questions and concerns. We’ll walk you through the entire process of getting help for your teen. We’ll even conduct a complete review of your insurance so that you will know in advance what is covered and what you will be responsible for yourself. Call today. 866-705-0828