Depression continues to be a common mental illness among teens. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately, 8% of teens meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression. Across the length of adolescence, one in five teens have experienced depression at some point in their teenage years. NAMI also points out that in clinical settings, such as group homes, hospitals, or rehabilitative centers, as many as 28 percent of teens experience depression. When the symptoms become obvious, adolescent depression treatment becomes necessary.
The word depression has Latin roots that mean “pressed down”. It is as though the energy of the mind and heart has been pushed inward instead of expressed and leaves an adolescent feeling “down”, despondent, or low.
Symptoms of Adolescent Depression
One symptom that is common with depression, among adults and adolescents alike, is the loss of an ability to enjoy things. You might see your teen lose interest in sports, favorite classes, friends, and socializing. Other symptoms include:
- A depressed mood
- Loss of interest in activities
- Social withdrawal
- Suicidal thoughts
- Poor concentration
- Poor memory
- Slow thinking
- Loss of motivation
- Sleep disturbance – insomnia / hypersomnia
- Appetite disturbance – weight loss/gain
It’s easy and common for parents to disregard symptoms of depression as a part of adolescence. Its symptoms can appear to look like those that are “normal” for a teenager. One of the tasks of a parent is to determine whether a mental illness exists. However, this task is not one to do alone; rather, seeking professional help is best. In order to be diagnosed for depression, your child must meet certain diagnostic criteria. This, along with knowing the emotional and behavioral history of your child as well as the history of depression in your family will assist a psychologist or therapist in making an accurate diagnosis.
Whether you and your child leave the office of a psychologist with a diagnosis or not, at least you have acquired the information you need to determine whether your teenager’s behavior is typical of adolescence. This information empowers you to make the best decisions for the health and well being of your teen.
Adolescent Depression Treatment
Fortunately, depression is treatable. With the right medication combined with therapy, a teen’s mood can stabilize and he or she can return to a healthy level of functioning at school, home, and work. What’s important to know is that adolescent depression treatment consists of a combination of both medication and therapy. Medication alone is not a thorough treatment plan.
In 1965, Joseph Schildkraut found that depression was connected to the absence of norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is both a neurotransmitter in the brain and a hormone that is released in the body during times of stress. As a neurotransmitter, it activates in the brain arousal and alertness. However, later researchers discovered serotonin playing a larger role in the presence of depression. For this reason, increasing a teen’s serotonin levels through the use of SSRI’s – selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors – can ease depressive symptoms.
SSRI’s are antidepressants that are incredibly effective, but they do come with risks. For teens in particular, it is essential to know that anti-depressants can cause suicidal thoughts and even attempts at suicide. This doesn’t mean to dismiss medication as a treatment modality, but to keep this risk at the center of your discussion with a psychiatrist. Of course, anyone taking psychotropic medication should be closely monitored, especially at the beginning of treatment.
As a caregiver of a potentially depressed teen, determining whether there is a clinical diagnosis and then working with a psychologist to best treat the disorder will facilitate the emotional and psychological health of your child.