Depression in Teenagers: Symptoms, Statistics, What You Can Do
If you are the parent of a teen, it is important that you understand how prevalent depression is among American teens, what characterizes the disorder, and how you can help your child. When you understand depression and recognize it as a disease, you can watch out for it in your child and help her get better.
Depression is a mental illness that is also called major depression or major depressive disorder. Someone with depression feels hopeless and sad. To be diagnosed as depressed, these feelings must last for a long period of time. A teen who feels sad occasionally, for instance after getting a bad grade, but perks up by the next day is not necessarily suffering from depression. Normal emotional changes and mood swings are normal in teens.
If your teen is depressed, she feels sad for long periods of time. She may also feel tired or be unable to sleep. She may be isolated from her friends or have few members in her social network. She might also seem to lose interest in things she once loved, like hobbies, sports and hanging out with friends. She may also even feel physical symptoms, like headaches and body pains that cannot be explained.
All of the potential causes of depression are not fully understood, but there are contributing factors including family history and genetics. Other things that can lead to depression include traumatic events, like the death of a loved one, difficult changes in family circumstances, and certain medical conditions and medications.
Depression in Teens
Depression is a very real problem in teenagers. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 5 percent of teens and kids experience depression in this country at any given point in time. Teens who have lost a loved one, who are under stress, or who have learning disabilities or other mental illnesses are at greater risk for depression.
The facts for teens alone are even more serious. Mental Health America reports that the incidence of depression in teens may be as high as one in five, or 20 percent. Estimates come from surveys, but also include the fact that not all teens report their depressive symptoms. That one-fifth of American teens are suffering with this mental disorder means that depression is a major public health problem.
Suicide in Teens
There are many reasons to take depression in teens seriously. Depression can lead to a host of problems, such as poor school performance, withdrawal from social activities, poor self-esteem, poor eating and sleeping habits, and even substance abuse. Worst of all, though, is the possibility of suicide. Depression does not always lead to suicide attempts, but there is a connection. Too many teens who are not getting help for depression feel suicidal.
As might be expected from the high rate of depression among teens, suicide is not uncommon. In fact, suicide is the third most common cause of death in American youth between the ages of 15 and 24. For teens between the ages of 15 and 19, the suicide rate in 2007 was 6.9 in 100,000. While teenage girls attempt suicide more often than boys, boys are more successful. They are dying at five times the rate that girls are at their own hands.
What You Can Do
The statistics are staggering, especially if you have a teenager in your house. The good news about depression is that it is treatable and suicide is preventable. Establish a good relationship with your teen and leave the door open for communication. When your teen feels like you will listen, she will talk to you and you will understand her better. Look for changes in her behavior and attitude and if you are worried, get your child help. A counselor or trained therapist can help your child work through her emotions. If necessary, a psychiatrist can recommend and prescribe medications that may help.