Help for Troubled Teens and Youth Suffering from Depression
By Curtis Reed
What is depression?
Depression is a clinical term used by psychiatrists to describe a period of time when a person feels very sad to the point of feeling worthless, hopeless and helpless. Occasional melancholy, bad moods and short periods of feeling down are common in struggling teens. Everyone experiences unhappiness at some time in his or her life, and many people may become depressed temporarily when things do not go as they would like. When a depressed mood persists however, and begins to interfere with everyday living, it may be the sign of a serious state of depression. Major teen depression limits a struggling boy's or girl's ability to function normally. Depression in struggling teens is characterized by a persistent sad mood, irritability, feelings of hopelessness or the inability to feel pleasure or happiness for an extended period of time—weeks, months or years in a struggling teen's life.
What causes depression?
What triggers depression in teenagers? The reasons for depression can vary from adolescent to adolescent. Often, depression results from a confluence of factors:
- Significant events such as the death of a loved one, parents’ divorce, moving to a new area, or breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend can prompt symptoms. Struggling teens depression can occur from neglect, prolonged absence from someone who is a source of care and nurturance, abuse and bullying, damage to self-esteem, or too many life changes occurring too quickly. In some teenagers, any major change may provoke depression.
- Earlier traumatic experiences such as abuse or incest often emerge and cause great distress as the child becomes a teen. This is because as a young child the victim did not have the life experience or language to process these painful experiences, or to protest. When such memories emerge in adolescence, the distress can be compounded if adults deny or discount the information.
- Stress, especially if the struggling teen lacks emotional support.
- Financial difficulties.
- Hormonal/physical changes that occur during puberty also cause new and unexpected emotions. Moodiness and melancholy are often experienced and labeled as depression.
- Medical conditions such as hypothyroidism can affect hormone balance and mood. Chronic physical illness also can cause teen depression. When a medical condition is diagnosed and treated by a doctor, the depression usually disappears.
- Substance abuse can cause changes in brain chemistry.
- Allergies to foods such as wheat, sugar, and milk cause or exacerbate symptoms of depression.
- Nutritional deficiencies may be caused by an amino acid imbalance or vitamin deficiency.
- Genetics can predispose a teen to depression when the illness runs in the family.There is no one single cause of depression in teenagers. Stressful and discouraging situations naturally overwhelm and have the potential to become serious. Experiences of failure commonly result in temporary feelings of worthlessness and self-blame, while personal loss causes feelings of sadness, disappointment and emptiness.
Researchers believe that a deficiency of certain chemicals in the brain and/or genetics may also affect how likely we are to develop an ongoing or serious depression in young teenagers. Any of the factors listed above may act as triggers to release disturbances in brain chemical function.
What are the symptoms?
Early symptoms of struggling teens with depression can be difficult to diagnose because they appear to be a normal part of the difficulties struggling boys and girls face. Troubled teen depression may be indicated if struggling teens experience an unusual degree of the following symptoms:
- changes in eating and sleeping habits (eating and sleeping too much or too little)
- significant weight gain or loss
- missing school, poor school performance and/or a sudden decline in grades
- withdrawal from friends and family
- no longer enjoying activities that were once pleasurable
- indecision, lack of concentration, or forgetfulness
- feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- feelings of despair and hopelessness
- continued fatique or loss of energy
- feelings of sadness - crying for no apparent reason
- overreaction to criticism, irritability
- feeling that nothing is worth the effort
- frequent health complaints when no physical ailment exists
- persistent or recurring headaches or frequent gastrointestinal upsets
- anger, rage, anxiety
- lack of enthusiasm and motivation
- drug/alcohol abuse, thoughts of death or suicide
- thoughts of suicide
Symptoms such as insomnia, panic attacks, delusions or hallucinations can indicate extreme teen depression, with particular risk for suicide.
What are the effects of depression?
Many troubled teens' behaviors or attitudes that are annoying to adults are actually indications of depression:
- Drug and alcohol use – depressed teens often use substances in an attempt to self-medicate their symptoms
- Low self-esteem – depression can intensify feelings of ugliness and unworthiness
- Eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or yo-yo dieting are often signs of unrecognized depression
- Self injury – cutting, burning, head banging, or other kinds of self-mutilation are almost always associated with depression
- Acting out – depression in teenagers may appear as agitation, aggression, or high risk behaviors rather than - or in addition to - gloominess
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts – teens who are seriously depressed or despondent often think, speak, or make "attention-getting" attempts at suicide, which should be taken seriously
What can friends and family do?
It is important to know that depression is an illness and no individual or family member should feel responsible for the depression. The depressed adolescent should not be blamed or told to 'pull themselves up by their boot straps'. Some struggling teenagers who are depressed keep to themselves, while others might not want to be alone. Listen and offer support rather than trying to contradict or talk an individual out of it. It is important that you let them know that it is all right to talk about their feelings and thoughts. Ask them how you can help and go with them to their family doctor or a mental health professional. Most of all, do not do it alone – get other people to provide help and support. Support groups for depressed teens are also available in many cities across the country. To find a support group nearest to your troubled teen please contact Zion Educational service at (888) 597-9495.
What are the treatments?
Depression in youth is a treatable illness. No one has to suffer endlessly. Most teens with clinical depression feel a sense of relief when they learn the facts about this illness; they realize depression is not a personal weakness, and most importantly, they learn they are not alone.
Each case of depression is unique, so people may require different methods of treatment. The most common and successfully used treatments for depression are psychological counseling in combination with anti-depressant medication. Support from family, friends and self-help groups can also make a big difference.
Depression, when treated properly may be easily overcome. Unfortunately troubled teens who are depressed may also be experimenting with other substances such as drugs of alcohol. When teens are using dangerous drugs to fight the depression, the symptoms may actually become worse. Zion Educational Service has child placing specialists available to families who are dedicated to restoring the family moral back to where it should be. In certain cases troubled teens are actually better off to be removed from their environment for a period of 60 to 90 days. If your family is in this particular position please do not hesitate to call at (888) 597-9495 to answer any questions or concerns the family may have.