Depression in adolescents: What should I do?

, medical expert
Last reviewed: 01.06.2018

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In a recent study conducted by the Queen Elizabeth Medical Center in Western Australia in 400 younger adolescents aged 10 to 14 years, 10% had clinical depression recognized, and more than half of the children were judged by doctors as prone to depression in the future. Depressive adolescents believed that happiness is achieved only by fame, money and beauty. Happy teenagers tend to believe that satisfaction with life depends on successful personal relationships and the setting of worthy goals. What is adolescent depression? Why does it arise and how to fight it?

What is adolescent depression?

Teenage depression is not just a bad mood - it's a serious problem that affects all aspects of a teenager's life. Teenage depression can lead to problems at home and at school, drug addiction, self-loathing, even violence or suicide. But parents, teachers and friends have many ways when they can help cope with depression.

Read also: 8 things you need to know about antidepressants

There are many misconceptions about teenage depression. In adolescence, many children are quite aggressive, they are difficult to communicate with, they are rebellious and want to be independent. Teenagers often have mood swings and they are sad. But depression is something else. Depression can destroy the very essence of a teenager's personality, causing an overwhelming feeling of sadness, despair or anger.

The frequency of teenage depression around the world is increasing, and we are increasingly aware of this by looking at our children or their friends. Depression strikes a blow to the mentality of a teenager much more often than most people think. And although teen depression is very treatable, experts say that in only one of five cases of depression, adolescents receive help.

Unlike adults who have the opportunity to seek help themselves, adolescents usually have to rely on parents, teachers and educators to ascertain the very fact of depression and get the necessary treatment. So if you have teenage children, it's important to find out what teenage depression looks like and what to do if you notice her symptoms.

Symptoms of teenage depression

Adolescents face a lot of cases of pressure from adults, from grades in the school to the control of mom and dad. And at this time in their body is a hormonal storm, which makes the psyche of a teenager even more vulnerable and fragile than before. In adolescence, children begin to fiercely defend their independence. For them, there is a drama that an adult will only smile sadly at. Because adults are accustomed to seeing adolescents often in an agitated state, it is not always easy for them to distinguish between depression and adolescent moods and moods. If you notice these symptoms in a teenager, most likely, he has depression.

Signs of depression in adolescents

  • Sadness or hopelessness for a long time
  • Irritability, anger or hostility
  • Tearfulness
  • Discarding friends and family
  • Loss of interest in any activity
  • Loss of appetite and bad sleep
  • Anxiety and excitement
  • Feeling of own worthlessness and guilt
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of death or suicide 

If you are not sure that the teenager is in a state of depression, contact him with a psychologist.

The negative impact of teenage depression

Negative consequences of teenage depression go far beyond the melancholy mood. Many cases of unhealthy behavior or aggressive attitude in adolescents - in fact, signs of depression. Below are some ways in which adolescents are able to show adults that they have depression. They do so not out of harm, but in an attempt to cope with emotional pain.

Problems at school. Depression can lead to energy loss and difficulty concentrating. At school, this can lead to poor attendance, quarrels in classrooms, or frustration in school hours, even for children who used to do very well.

Escape from home. Many depressed adolescents run away from home or talk about running away. Such attempts are a cry for help.

Drugs and alcohol abuse. Adolescents can consume alcohol or drugs in an attempt to "self-treat" depression. Unfortunately, these methods lead to irreparable consequences.

Low self-esteem. Depression can provoke and intensify a sense of one's own helplessness, shame, and give a sense of meaninglessness to life.

Internet addiction. Teens can go online to escape their problems. But excessive computer use only strengthens their isolation and makes them more depressed.

Desperate, reckless behavior. Depressive adolescents may engage in dangerous operations (for example, rob a passer on the street) or are in desperate risk, for example, in dangerous driving, unprotected sex.

Violence. Some depressed adolescents (usually boys who become victims of aggression) become aggressive. Self-hatred and a desire to die can grow into violence and rage towards others.

Teenage depression is associated with a number of other problems of the psyche, including digestive disorders.

Symptoms of suicidal tendencies in depressed adolescents

  1. He says or jokes about suicide.
  2. Says something like: "I'd rather die," "I would like to disappear forever," or "I have no choice."
  3. Reasoning about death admiringly, something like "If I died, everyone would regret it and love me more").
  4. Writes stories and poems about death or suicide.
  5. Participates in dangerous, traumatic sports.
  6. Say goodbye to friends and family, as if forever.
  7. Looks for weapons, pills or discusses ways to kill yourself.

The problem with depression must be solved, and the earlier, the better. It is very important that the teenager shares his problems with you. A teenager may not want to tell them. He may be ashamed, he may be afraid of being misunderstood. In addition, it is very difficult for depressed adolescents to express what they feel.

If you think that your child is depressed, you should trust your instincts. In addition, the situation is complicated by the fact that adolescents may not consider their behavior the result of depression.

Tips on how to talk to a depressed teenager

Offer support Let the depressed teenager know that you will do everything for him completely and unconditionally. Do not ask him many questions (teenagers do not like to feel under control), but make it clear that you are ready to give the child any support.
Be sensitive, but persevering Do not give up if your child closes first of all from you. Talking about depression can be a very difficult exam for teenagers. Take into account the comfort level of your child in a conversation, while at the same time emphasizing your concern for his condition and readiness to listen.
Listen to a teenager without moralizing The teenager always resists the adult's desire to criticize or condemn as soon as he begins to say something. The important thing is that your child communicates with you. Avoid giving unsolicited advice or making ultimatums.
Just Recognize the Child's Problems Do not try to tell adolescents that depressing is stupid, even if their feelings or problems seem really stupid or irrational to you. Just acknowledge the pain and sadness that they feel. If you do not, they will understand that you do not take their emotions seriously.

Teenager and suicide

If you suspect that a teenager can commit suicide, take immediate action! Lead a child to a psychologist, a psychotherapist, show more attention and concern to him.

Adolescents who are severely affected by depression often talk about suicide or make "attention-getting" attempts at suicide. Some teenagers do not really want to commit suicide, there are no further suicidal thoughts, but parents and teachers should always take them very seriously to such "beacons".

For the vast majority of suicidal adolescents, depression or another mental disorder is an increased risk factor. In depressed adolescents who abuse alcohol or drugs, the risk of suicide is even higher. Because of the real danger of suicide of adolescents who are depressed, parents and teachers should closely monitor any signs of suicidal thoughts or behavior.

Methods for diagnosing adolescent depression

Depression is very destructive for the delicate psyche of a teenager, if it is not treated, so do not wait and hope that the symptoms will disappear. Seek professional help.

Be prepared to give the doctor information about the symptoms of your child's depression, including their duration, how they affect the child's daily activities, and in general about all the symptoms that concern you. It is also necessary to tell the doctor about relatives who have suffered from depression or any other mental disorder.

If there are no health problems that cause teen depression, ask the doctor to refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in the psychology of children and adolescents. Depression in adolescents can be a complex condition, especially when it comes to treatment. No one will do a miracle with your child. You will need to work with the symptoms of depression for a long time. If your child feels uncomfortable at the advice of a psychologist or psychiatrist, ask for a referral to another specialist who may be better suited to your child.

The difference between adolescent and adult depression

Depression in adolescents may significantly differ from depression in adults. The following symptoms of depression are more common in adolescents than in adults:

Irritability, anger or mood swings - as noted above, it is irritability, not sadness, inherent in adults, often prevails in depressed adolescents. A depressed teenager can be grumpy, hostile, easily upset or be prone to outbursts of anger.

Unexplained pains - depressed adolescents often complain about physical ailments, such as headaches or abdominal pain. If a thorough medical examination does not reveal the medical reasons for these pains, this may indicate depression.

Extreme sensitivity to criticism - depressed adolescents suffer from feelings of inferiority, which makes them extremely vulnerable to criticism, rejection and failure. This becomes a particularly serious problem in school, when the child's academic performance is sharply reduced.

Closure in yourself, escape from people (but not from everyone). Although adults, as a rule, also become isolated in themselves, when they have depression, adolescents usually maintain friendly relations, but limit this circle to a few chosen ones. However, adolescents with depression can communicate much less than before, almost stop communicating with their parents or start walking with another company.

Who to contact?

Do not rely on one medicine alone

There are several options for treating depression in adolescents, including individual therapy or group sessions. There is also a method of family therapy. Medications are the last resort, and this is only part of a comprehensive treatment, not a panacea.

Any type of psychological therapy is often good for treating mild to moderate depression. Antidepressants should be used as part of a more extensive treatment plan, in more severe cases.

Unfortunately, some parents believe that antidepressants are the only way to cure a child. This is far from true, any treatment is individual and can vary depending on the results.

Risks of adolescent use of antidepressants In severe cases of depression, medications can help alleviate its symptoms. However, antidepressants are not always the best treatment option. They can give side effects in the form of addiction, sleep disorders, increased fatigue and drowsiness. It is important to weigh all the risks before the appointment of antidepressants.

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Antidepressants and adolescent brain

Antidepressants were developed and tested for adults, so their impact on the young, developing brain is not fully understood. Some researchers are concerned that the use of drugs such as Prozac, children and adolescents, can interfere with the normal development of their brain. The brain of adolescents is rapidly developing and the impact of antidepressants can affect development, especially how a teenager manages stress and regulates his emotions.

Antidepressants increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior in some adolescents. The risk of suicide, according to studies of specialists, is highest during the first two months of treatment with antidepressants.

Adolescents who take antidepressants should be under close supervision of doctors and parents. Any signs that the symptoms of teenage depression are worsening should be a signal to revise the treatment.

Warning symptoms include increased excitement, irritability, or uncontrolled adolescent anger, as well as sudden behavioral changes.

According to the data of psychotherapists who are engaged in teenage depression, after the beginning of taking antidepressants or changing their dose, the teenager should consult a doctor:

  • Once a week for four weeks
  • Every 2 weeks for the next month
  • At the end of the 12th week of taking medications

Supporting adolescents as a treatment for depression

The most important thing you can do for your child is to let him know that you will always support him. Now, more than ever, your teenager needs to know that you appreciate him, love and care for him.

Be patient. Living with a depressed teenager in one house is not an easy thing to do. From time to time you can experience fatigue, despair, a desire to quit everything or any other negative emotions. In this difficult time it is important to remember that your child will be cured, you are already working on it. Your teenager also suffers, so it's better to have patience and understanding.

Encourage physical activity. Encourage your teenager when he does sports or yoga. Exercises can alleviate the symptoms of depression, so find ways to make a teen physically active. You can apply something very simple, for example, walking with a dog or riding a bicycle - it can be useful.

Encourage social activity. Isolation only exacerbates the depression of a teenager, so encourage him when he wants to spend time with friends or you.

Participate in the treatment. Make sure your teen observes all instructions and the doctor and does everything in time and in full. This is especially important when your child takes prescription drugs. Monitor the changes in your child's condition and see a doctor if the symptoms of depression, in your opinion, are aggravated.

Learn more about depression. If you are little aware of the flow of this condition, you need to read more about depression, and then you too will become an expert. The more you know, the better you can help your depressed teenager. Encourage the teenager to learn more about depression, too. Reading popular science literature can help adolescents feel that they are not alone and give them an opportunity to better understand what they are experiencing.

The way to restore the state of mind of a teenager can be long, so be patient. Rejoice in small victories and do not worry about failures. Most importantly, do not judge yourself and do not compare your family with others. You do everything possible to save the teenager from depression, and he tries with you.

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