Teen Depression

Sadness, low energy, and fatigue are all normal human experiences, especially for teens going through emotional and hormonal changes. When those low moods begin to prevail over other emotions and affect your teen’s day-to-day life, however, it’s a sign that there may be something more serious going on.

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses teens and adults feel. It can happen for many reasons and varies in severity from person to person. Like all mental illnesses, we can take some measures to reduce the severity.

Teen depression makes it much more challenging to navigate the adolescent years and the challenges that accompany them; therefore, it’s essential to become familiar with the characteristics of depression so that you can support your teen through their illness.

Teen Depression

Sadness, low energy, and fatigue are all normal human experiences, especially for teens going through emotional and hormonal changes. When those low moods begin to prevail over other emotions and affect your teen’s day-to-day life, however, it’s a sign that there may be something more serious going on.

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses felt by teens and adults. It can happen for many reasons and varies in severity from person to person. Like all mental illnesses, we can take some measures to reduce the severity.

Teen depression makes it much more challenging to navigate the adolescent years and the challenges that accompany them; therefore, it’s essential to become familiar with the characteristics of depression so that you can support your teen through their illness.

What is Depression?

Despite what many people believe, depression is more than just ‘the blues.’ It is a persistent state of sadness, numbness, lethargy, negativity, and overwhelm that lasts for at least two consecutive weeks.

Some depression is chronic, coming and going throughout an entire lifetime. Even if depression is only short-lived, however, it can still be debilitating and have a devastating impact on your child’s wellbeing.

For this reason, early intervention is a high priority when your teen begins to show signs of feeling depressed.

symptoms-of-depression

Subtypes of Teen Depression

Underneath the umbrella of depression, there are different types of depression that can impact teenagers in unique ways.

Major Depression

Major Depression is when someone experiences symptoms for most of the day nearly every day for at least two weeks. These symptoms include low mood, loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy, significant weight gain or loss, difficulty sleeping, and fatigue.

For teenagers, this can look like feeling irritable and angry all the time instead of sad, having problems focusing in school or participating in activities they once loved, eating too much or too little, and feeling like they can’t do anything right.

Persistent Depressive Disorder

Also called Dysthymia, Persistent Disorder is a less severe form of depression that can last for years if left untreated. Teens with dysthymia usually have a low mood, feel hopeless, and have trouble enjoying anything. They may also have problems with their sleep and appetite, feel tired all the time, and have low self-esteem.

Bipolar Disorder

This mental illness causes extreme mood swings from overly happy and excited to very sad and hopeless. Teens with bipolar disorder may have episodes of major depression, mania, or a mix of the two. Mania can cause them to feel extremely happy and energetic, have racing thoughts, be overly impulsive, and have problems sleeping.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

SAD is similar to other types of depression; however, it appears in a seasonal pattern. For example, someone may experience persistent low moods at the onset of winter every year. The causes of this pattern are still unclear, but some suggest that changes in light and climate can negatively affect moods.

There are several other sub-types of depression beneath each of the above, but these are the most common.

Causes of Depression in Teens

Generally, the causes of depression fall under three main categories: biological, behavioral, and psychological.

Biological factors may include a family history of depression, problems with the way your brain functions, and certain medical conditions. For example, people who have low serotonin levels (a chemical in the brain) are more likely to experience depression. Family members of people with depression are also more likely to develop the disorder.

Behavioral factors may include negative life events (such as a death in the family or a breakup), poor coping skills, and social isolation. The impact of negative or traumatic events can be especially strong in teens because their brains are still developing.

Psychological factors may include low self-esteem, negative thinking patterns, and distorted views of reality. For example, someone with low self-esteem may think they are not good enough or worthless. Negative thinking patterns can make it difficult to see the positives in life, leading to depression.

Treatment for Teens Diagnosed with Depression

Depression can be a debilitating mental health disorder that can negatively affect all aspects of a person’s life. Thankfully, there are many effective treatments for depression. The most common treatment is antidepressant medication, but therapy and lifestyle changes can also be helpful.

Medication

If a teen is diagnosed with depression, the first step is usually to prescribe antidepressant medication. There are many different antidepressants, so the doctor will likely try several until they find the one that works best for the teen.

Finding the right medication and dosage can take some time, so the teen needs to be patient and continue taking the medication even if they start to feel better. The two most common medications for teens with depression are:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac): this is an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) that works by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. It is known as the first-line response for children and teens with depression or anxiety, as it is the only drug approved by the FDA for both children and adolescents.
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro): this is another SSRI, and it is approved for the treatment of depression in teens aged 12 and above. It works similarly to fluoxetine.
  • Other SSRIs: depending on how your child is presenting and the nature of their depression, some medical professionals will prescribe non-FDA-approved SSRIs, which is commonplace.

Regardless of the information you find online, it is always the best course of action to consult a health professional who is familiar with your child’s condition and history before making any decisions.

Medication Side-Effects

Many treatment options for depression can cause side effects, and it’s important to weigh the risks and benefits of any medication with your child’s doctor. While some people experience side effects with antidepressants, others may find that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Some common side effects of antidepressant medications include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Difficulty sleeping

In addition, some people who take antidepressants may experience a rare but potentially life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome. Serotonin syndrome occurs when there is too much serotonin in the body. Symptoms can include:

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Fast heart rate
  • Fever
  • Sweating

If your teen experiences any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately. Ideally, however, your teen will be prescribed a low dose to begin with, which can help them ease into taking the medication and experience less severe side effects.

Therapy

Up to 65% of young people respond to medication treatment, but at times, they may also require therapy to treat depression effectively. Therapy can help teens understand and cope with their depression. It can also help them learn to manage their moods and emotions better.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can also help treat teen depression. Things like getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep can all help improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression.

The Role of Parents

Parents play an important role in their child’s diagnosis. Their observations and interactions with their kids may provide important clues about whether their child has bipolar disorder.

If you are the parent of a teenager who suffers from depression, you may feel helpless and alone. You want to do something to help your child, but you may not know where to start.

First and foremost, it is important that you don’t ignore the problem. Depression can be a serious illness and, left untreated, it can lead to unwanted consequences.

Once you are made aware of your child’s struggles, the next step is to find help. This may involve taking your teen to a therapist or psychiatrist. You must find someone who specializes in working with adolescents, as they may better understand the issues your child is facing.

You also need to be an advocate for your child. This means being there for them, both emotionally and physically, and stopping at nothing to get your child the help they need. You may find it necessary to make some changes to your own life to better support your teenager, such as:

  • Make sure your child gets enough sleep
  • Limiting screen time
  • Encouraging physical activity
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Avoiding conflict in the home

It is also crucial that you avoid blaming your child for their depression. This will only make things worse. Instead, try to be supportive and understanding. Let your child know that you are there for them, no matter what.

Conclusion

Depression is a challenging and common problem for teenagers, but with the right tools, we can manage it. It is important to remember that everyone experiences sadness and grief at different times in their lives. There is a big difference between feeling down once in a while and having a clinical diagnosis of depression.

If you are worried about your teenager, don’t hesitate to reach out to Hillside Horizon for help. Many resources are available, and with the proper support, your teenager can overcome depression and lead a happy and fulfilling life.