According to clinical therapists, about 5% of all teens will experience depression, and about 20% of all adolescents will experience depression that is serious in nature between the ages of 12 and 19. Because adolescence is a tender age in which there are significant emotional, psychological, and physical changes occurring, mental health professionals and caregivers should tend to teen depression with prudence.
During adolescence, typically depressed females outnumber males by two to one. These gender differences in depression typically occur between 15 to 18 years of age. However, there are differences in female versus male tendencies that cause the higher rates of depression in females. For instance, female teens tend to be more forthcoming in admitting depression; they are often vulnerable to more interpersonal stress; and they may experience biological changes that make them more at risk for depression.
Because teens are at a unique stage in life, there are particular environmental and social factors to consider with teen depression treatment. For instance, having a social or peer group with strong connections are important for most teens. If a teen does not have connections with their peers, this might be a source of concern, and possibly a factor in their experience of depression. Furthermore, because they spend so much time in the academic environment, their school relationships, academic performance, and achievements will play a significant role in their mood.
Depression can play out in different ways for different age groups. Some of the depressive symptoms that teens might experience include:
- Anger and aggression, especially in male depressed teens
- Low self-esteem, high self-criticism, extreme pessimism, especially if they are female
- Confused and dysfunctional thinking
- High self-consciousness
- Irritable / depressed mood – the DSM allows for irritable mood to substitute for depressed mood in the criteria for making a diagnosis for depression.
- Loss of interest in activities
- Poor interpersonal problem solving and high stress from close relationships
- Antisocial behavior, particularly in males
- Sleep disturbance – insomnia / hypersomnia
- Appetite disturbance – weight loss/gain
- Difficulty coping with stress from relationships, family environment, or depressed parents
- Symptoms of other mental illnesses, which are common to co-exist with adolescent depression, such as ADHD, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance use disorders.
- Suicidal thoughts
- Poor concentration
- Poor memory
- Slow thinking
The mental health field currently recognizes that the combination of the right medication along with therapy as the best form of treatment. Alongside this, one of the most essential and important ways to facilitate change in a teen’s life is through the therapeutic alliance he or she has with a therapist.
A psychotherapist can facilitate a teen’s maturity, independence, and autonomy. The trusting relationship that an adolescent and a psychotherapist have together can encourage a teen to monitor thoughts that lead to a depressed mood. For instance, with a compassionate and strong relationship with a therapist, a teen might be more inclined to complete a daily thought diary, which facilitates the examination of which thoughts and beliefs lead to a depressed mood. A therapist can help a teen identify behaviors, thoughts, and emotions that keep them stuck in the past, and facilitate their journey into the future.
Lastly, if the relationship between a teen and a therapist is secure, therapy can be a strong source of support when circumstances at home or school get rough. Furthermore, the strength of this relationship along with the proper use of psychotropic medication can make all the difference in healing from teen depression.
Richards, S. & Perri, M.G. (2002). Depression: A primer for practitioners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
By Robert Hunt
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