Teens are vulnerable to depression because of the life stage they’re in. They are going through changes in the brain, transformations in their body, and adaptations to their social life, including attempting to fit in among their peers. They have the stress of academic, social, relational, and family pressures put upon them.
Of course, not all teens experience mental illness, such as depression, during the difficult life stage of adolescence. However, because of the great changes they are experiencing, they are vulnerable to mental illness.
Now, it should be clear that depression is not the same thing as sadness. The feelings and emotions of teens are going to fluctuate. They are going to rise and fall, and it’s a pattern that’s normal in adolescence.
Michael Rutter, a child psychiatrist in the United Kingdom explained that adolescence is a challenging time because a teen is searching for his or her identity. However, he points out that adolescence does not have to include storms and turbulence. In fact, most teenagers can move through this stage of life without significant emotional turmoil. Sure, there are challenges that come with the transition from childhood to adulthood, but most teens get through this change without significant behavioral issues or disturbance.
Despite this, there will be periods of adolescence that will look like depression. Teenagers will experience discouragement, feelings of not fitting in, uncertainty about the future, an inability to meet the demands of parents and teachers, and this may result in a sullen mood. However, feeling sullen and feeling depressed are two different experiences.
At the same time, there are six areas of life that are important for parents to be mindful of, especially if they believe their son or daughter might be vulnerable to teen depression. These are stress, sleep, food, environment, the media, physical illness, and anniversary reminders of challenging past events. This and the next article in this series will explore these areas of life in depth so that parents and teens can recognize how and why they might be slipping into a depression. For instance, if you’re a teen struggling with sadness or a depressed mood, you might want to know the various factors that might contribute to your emotional state. With this information, you can make different choices, find the support you need, or talk to your parents about what you’ve learned.
Stress: Stress is the effect of unpleasant and undesirable experiences. At times, significant stress will arise from events that are seen as threatening or particularly life-altering. For instance, events like your parents getting divorced or your mother getting remarried can not only create circumstantial stress, like having to live with someone new, but also emotional and psychological stress. This kind of stress could require the aid of a mental health professional, a friend you trust, or an uninvolved family member.
But not all stress is the result of such significant life changes. Daily stress in small amounts can feel just as overwhelming. Sadly, most people feel stressed all the time. With work, school, family responsibilities, and other life tasks, we can experience some element of stress on a daily basis. Sometimes this amount of stress can keep us feeling good about yourself. There’s so much to get done, you’ve lost your personal time and connection to who you are. Your mind is on overdrive and your heart has gone hiding. When this begins to happen, teen depression might set in.
What’s even more challenging is that coping mechanisms in adolescence are not as well developed in teens. Healthy adults who have already been through a variety of experiences and have learned what works and does not work for them have cultivated healthy coping mechanisms. You’re still finding those that work and haven’t had the opportunity to test them out. Sadly, many teens are discovering unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking to avoid emotions or using drugs to cope with intense feelings.
The next article in this series will discuss the rest of the factors in life that might make a teen’s vulnerability to depression worse, or it may even make an existing condition of teen depression more severe.