Abigail was a boisterous girl growing up. She was always full of life and her absence even for a few hours could be felt in the entire house. As she grew into her teenage years, she became withdrawn, unkempt and preferred her company every time of the day. She will lock herself up in her room and cry for days for a justifiable reason. Her parents noticed there was a real issue when she started posting suicidal notes on her social media handles.
Alarmed, they sought professional help and like they suspected, Abigail was diagnosed with chronic depression.
WHEN I have a bout of depression,” says Abigail, “I lack motivation for everything, not even the things I usually love to do. The only thing of interest to me is sleep. I often feel very worthless and unlovable. I nursed the feeling that everyone will be happier without me and that gave rise to suicidal thoughts’’.
“I thought about suicide every time,” recalls James, a 17-year-old boy diagnosed with depression. “I didn’t really want to die, but I wanted to stop feeling the way I was feeling. I’m normally a very caring person but cannot see past myself during bouts of depression. I become selfish, irritable and just want to be left alone, all the time.
Abigail and James were in their early teens when they first experienced depression. While other young people might occasionally feel down, Abigail and James had periods of depression that persisted for weeks or months at a time. “It’s like being stuck in a deep, dark hole with no way out,” Abigail says. “You feel like you are losing control of yourself and cannot do anything about it.
Abigail and James’s situation is not uncommon. The diagnosis of depression among the young appears to be increasing at an alarming rate, and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression is “the predominant cause of illness and disability for both boys and girls aged 10 to 19 years.
“When there is life there is hope” these are words from an old cliché but no matter how true it might be; these words can never make sense to a young teen who is trapped in the arms of depression. Do you ever wonder whether your irritable or unhappy teenager might actually be experiencing teen depression? As the rate of depression rises, so does the teen suicide rate. In a recent data collated in 2013, from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it indicated that, among students in grades 9-12 in the United States, 17 percent seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous 12 months, 13.6 percent made a plan about how they would commit suicide, 8 percent attempted suicide one or more times, and 2.7 percent made an attempt that resulted in poisoning, overdose, or an injury that required medical attention. Most times depression may come with suicide warning or signs so, in order to save the life of your teenager, you must also take note of these suicide warning signs that accompany depression. They include:
- Talking about committing suicide
- Writing poems or stories about suicide
- Giving away prized possessions
- Engaging in reckless behaviour
- Romanticizing death
- Saying goodbye to friends and family members (in person, in notes, or on social media)
- Cryptic social media updates that reference death or the end
These signs should propel you to raise or signal for help and intervention for your depressed teen because if ignored they can lead to fatal circumstances.
Teen depression is a serious mental health problem that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities. It affects how your teenager thinks, feels and behaves, and it can cause emotional, functional and physical problems. Although depression can occur at any time in life, symptoms may be different between teens and adults.
The symptoms of depression can appear during adolescence and may include changes in sleep patterns, appetite, and weight. Feelings of despair, hopelessness, sadness, and worthlessness may also appear. Other signs include social withdrawal, trouble concentrating or remembering, suicidal thoughts or actions, and medically unexplained symptoms. When mental-health professionals suspect depression, they usually look for groups of symptoms that persist for weeks and that disrupt a person’s everyday life.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms of teen depression include a change from the teenager’s previous attitude and behaviour that can cause significant distress and problems at school or home, in social activities, or in other areas of life. Depression symptoms can vary in severity, but changes in teen’s emotions and behaviour may include the examples below.
Emotional changes, such as Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
Frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters.
Feeling hopeless or empty.
Irritable or annoyed mood.
Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities.
Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends.
Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
Fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism.
Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance.
Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things.
Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak.
Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide.
Behavioural changes, such as Tiredness and loss of energy;
Insomnia or sleeping too much;
Changes in appetite — decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain;
Use of alcohol or drugs;
Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still;
Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements;
Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches, which may include frequent visits to the school nurse;
Poor school performance or frequent absences from school;
Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance;
Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behaviour, or other acting-out behaviours;
Self-harm — for example, cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing;
Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt;
Depression and Teenage Girls
The incidence of depression in teenage girls appears to be higher than that of boys. One factor may be the stress resulting from emotional, physical, or sexual harassment or abuse, which girls often have to cope with. “When a scary external world and a chaotic internal world collide,” wrote professional counsellor Sharon Hersh, “the result is often overwhelming and confusing.” Girls may also be unduly influenced by media portrayals of the “ideal” body. A girl who sees herself as physically undesirable or who is overly concerned about peer approval may be more vulnerable to depression.
POSSIBLE CAUSES OF TEEN DEPRESSION
According to WHO, “depression results from a complex interaction of social, psychological and biological factors.” These may include the following.
Depression often runs in families, suggesting that genetics can play a role, perhaps affecting chemical activity in the brain. Other physical risk factors include cardiovascular disease and changing hormone levels, as well as ongoing substance abuse, which may intensify depression, if not give rise to it.
All teens experience some amount of stress, and some stress can even be healthy. Many teens, however, struggle with significant stress levels that interfere with learning, relationships, and other areas of functioning. Stress can manifest in different ways, and some symptoms of stress mimic normal teen behaviour. To that end, stress can sneak up on teens. It’s important to know what to look for when it comes to teen stress:
- Emotional changes: Your teen might appear agitated, anxious, and/or depressed. Pay attention to changes in behaviour.
- Physical changes: Teens under stress are likely to get sick more often and complain of headaches, stomachaches, and other aches and pains.
- Behavioural changes: Look for changes in eating or sleeping habits, and avoidance of normal daily activities.
- Cognitive changes: You might notice decreased concentration, forgetfulness, and/or the appearance of carelessness.
While a little stress can be healthy, chronic or excessive stress can be physically and psychologically harmful, sometimes to the point of plunging a susceptible, or biologically vulnerable, teen into depression. According to data collected by the American Psychological Association for the Stress in America Survey, teen stress rivals that of adults. Results of the survey show that not only do teens identify that their stress levels are not healthy, but they also underestimate the impact stress has on their mental and physical health.
Stress-related factors linked to depression may include parental divorce or separation, the death of a loved one, physical or sexual abuse, a serious accident, illness, or a learning disability—especially if a child feels rejected as a result. A related factor may be unrealistically high parental expectations, perhaps in regard to scholastic achievement. Other possible causes are bullying, uncertainty about the future, emotional estrangement by a depressed parent, and parental unpredictability.
What Parents can do.
When kids are young, parents are used to swooping in and rescuing them whenever they need help. As your kids get older and their problems become more complex, you have to transition into more of a supporting role, and that can be difficult. This is especially true for teens who are struggling with depression. They need help to get better. Recognize that depressed teens may find it hard to express their feelings or may not understand what is happening to them. They may not even be aware of the symptoms of depression.
Teens tend to express their depression in ways different from those of adults, so be alert to major changes in your child’s behaviour, eating habits, moods, sleep patterns, or social interactions—especially if the changes persist for weeks.
- Cling to Psychotherapy: Depression whether in teens or adults is first a psychological problem. Talk therapy and/or cognitive behavioural therapy are often good initial treatments for mild to moderate cases of depression.
- Group therapy: Therapy groups can be effective for teens. Through group work, teens connect with other teens that share and understand their struggles and create support networks beyond their immediate families and close friends. Group therapy gives the depressed teenager an opportunity to meet peers who are in probably worst situations; thereby helping her realize she can be a source of succour to others in need.
- Medication management: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) are antidepressant medications that can be beneficial to adolescents diagnosed with major depressive disorder. An adolescent being treated for major depressive disorder should be carefully evaluated by a physician to determine whether or not the medication is necessary. Although, antidepressant medications do come with risks. In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about SSRI medications for children and adolescent due to an increased risk of suicidal thoughts or behaviour. As parents, you must be careful about the meditative measures you adopt for your depressed teenager.
Just in case you are not yet prepared to take the depression problem of your teen to others who you feel may be outsiders, there are other easy things you can do at home to help your teen. This includes
- Focusing on listening: You can’t fix this for your teen by putting up a nagging pitiful attitude, and lectures won’t make depression go away, but active and empathic listening establishes rapport and provides the required emotional support.
- Making 1:1 time a priority: The simple of act of making time to talk each day will help your teen reconnect and seek help instead of internalizing her feelings.
- Taking a Stand Against social isolation: Lack of motivation might make it difficult for your teen to connect with peers during this time. Encourage your teen to reach out to close friends and engage in activities of interest with other teens. Avoid letting her get shut out at this period.
- Creating for your teen, a Conducive environment for enough sleep: Insufficient sleep exacerbates symptoms of depression. Teens need 9-10 hours of sleep every night, hence talking about sleep with your teen can help solve depression issues.
- Prioritizing exercise: It is no news that regular exercises play a vital role in improving mental health. Aim for one hour of exercise a day with your teen. In this case, it not just helpful to pose as a tutor or coach, you must also be part of the process. Offer to try new exercise classes with your teen to make it fun.
- Improve nutrition: Food definitely has its way of interrupting and determining the mood of humans. Healthy, balanced diets help to combat fatigue and feed the brain as well as boost excitements.
Fixing your young teenager’s depression and mood issues can sometimes be exasperating, nevertheless, the process of overcoming depression especially in a young teenager requires patience. It might not be an easy task but being a parent requires that you persevere and gradually follow through the process since the joy of that young teenager also assures you of yours.
How Friends Can Help
The isolating feeling of depression can make it hard for some adolescents to ask for help. They may be willing to speak to their friends about their depression instead of their parents or caregivers. For teens who want to support their friends who have depression or other mental health conditions, the following recommendations can help;
- Avoid saying things like “you’ll get over it,” “toughen up” or “you’re fine”
- Tell your friend that having a mental health condition does not change the way you feel about them
- Your friend may feel alone; check in regularly and include your friend in your plans
- Learn more about mental health conditions
- Encourage your friend it gets better; help and support are available
- Reach out to a trusted adult (parent, teacher, coach, religious leaders) and share with them your concerns for your friend.
How Depressed Teens Can Help Themselves
If you suffer from depression, a practical suggestion to help you control your thoughts and feelings is to create what has been called an emotional first-aid kit. The kit, which can be adjusted as you see fit, might include;
- Contact information of people to call when you feel down
- Favourite songs that are positive and up-building
- Inspirational sayings and encouraging articles
- A list of comforting and up-building sayings from the Holy Scriptures
- Mementoes to remind you of people who love you
- A journal containing your positive thoughts as well as positive experiences you have enjoyed.
Always remember that you are not alone and depressed feelings, as daunting as they may seem, can pass away.