The medical community once thought depression affected only adults. The risk for the condition can begin in childhood or the early teens, however, and increases steadily through the mid-20s. Around 11 percent of young people will have experienced an episode of depression by the end of his or her teenage years.
Depression in children, teens, and young adults is much more than a phase. It’s a real condition that can interfere with daily life, lead to suicidal thoughts and behavior, and go on to affect a person throughout life.
What is depression?
We all have times when we feel down or sad. Depression is a feeling of sadness, despair, or hopelessness that does not go away. In someone with depression, this feeling can last for weeks or months and interfere with the person’s ability to participate in everyday activities. Depression affects mood, outlook, thoughts, and behavior. It also can cause fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, headaches, and insomnia.
People with depression often see the world in a negative light. They can be overly critical of themselves, and feel worthless and unloved. They may feel overwhelmed by small problems the rest of us take in stride. They feel like giving up. They pull away from people and drop out of activities, but this isolates them and makes them feel worse.
Teens can face many difficulties they’re ill-equipped to handle emotionally: divorce, learning disabilities, and abuse and neglect, to name a few. By nature, they feel powerless against these situations, and the effects can remain with them well into adulthood.
Even a teen who doesn’t face any of these challenges can be depressed. An inherited tendency toward depression also can cause the problem.
Depression runs in families, but not everyone with a depressed family member becomes depressed. People with no family history of depression also can have depression. Besides life events and family history, other factors that play a role in causing depression include social environment, medical conditions, and negative thought patterns.
For teens, a stressful home environment or neighborhood poverty and violence can lead to depression. Other possible triggers for teen depression include learning disabilities that make academic success difficult, hormonal changes affecting mood, and physical illness. Drug and alcohol abuse also can affect mood and lead to depression, and many teens turn to these substances to medicate their emotions.
Signs of depression
To recognize a depressed teen, you need to know the symptoms.
These are warning signs of depression:
Feeling deep sadness or hopelessness.
Lack of energy.
Loss of pleasure or interest in activities that once excited the teen.
Anxiety and panic.
Turmoil, worry, and irritability. The teen may brood or lash out in anger because of the distress he or she feels.
Difficulty organizing, concentrating, or remembering.
Negative views of life and the world.
Feeling worthless and guilty. The teen may feel stupid, ugly, or bad.
Drastic changes in appetite or weight.
Difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep or sleeping too much.
Sluggishness. A depressed teen often talks, reacts, and walks more slowly than other teens.
Avoiding and withdrawing from friends and family.
Restlessness. The restlessness brought on by depression may lead to behaviors such as fidgeting or acting up in class.
Self-mutilation and suicidal thoughts.