Depression is a mood disorder characterized by an overwhelming, prolonged sense of sadness that doesn’t alter or improve based on circumstances. A person with depression can still experience periods of relief and periods of more intense sadness, but overall, positive feelings feel dampened or darkened by the overreaching “cloud.” This constant weight of sadness can cause a person to feel apathetic toward life and distanced from people, sometimes leading to suicidal thoughts. When considering various approaches to teen depression treatment, it’s important to understand that this disorder is distinct from normal sadness.
Teens and seniors are especially prone to depression. NAMI estimates that 13 percent of youth from ages 8 to 15, as well as 21.4 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 will struggle with a form of this disorder during this period, well above the statistics for adults aged 18 and older. While there are many theories as to why teens struggle with depression more than other age groups do, it often comes down to change. Because teens are going through a difficult transition in their lives and are often faced with an overwhelming number of new challenges and difficulties, they are prone to it, especially through the years of high school and college. This is normal – but some teens take the hit harder than others and need more help through this time in their life.
Please note that teen depression is a major risk factor for suicide. If you are noticing signs of suicidal ideation in your teen, you should seek help immediately. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to talk to someone now. If you believe you teen is in danger of hurting themselves, take them to the nearest emergency room.
If you believe your teen is thinking about suicide, but hasn’t shown any signs of preparing for suicide, talk to them about your worries. Some parents and relatives are worried about bringing up topics of suicide, depression, and mental illness but bringing these issues out into the open can often be a step in the right direction. If you are worried about your teen and are unsure of how to approach them about depression, speak to a therapist or psychiatrist.
Depression typically refers to major depressive disorder, a serious mental health condition that affects millions of Americans and involves negative feelings that impact a teen’s appetite, sleeping habits, hobbies, and work responsibilities, for more than two weeks. The negative feelings associated with depression come in many different forms, from unexplained sadness and sorrow, to sudden irritability, feelings of worthlessness, frustrations aimed at oneself, sudden insecurities, and self-esteem problems, as well as mental and physical lethargy.
However, depressive symptoms are not unique to MDD, and these depressive symptoms can manifest as milder disorders, or as a symptom in different, rarer depressive disorders. While there are over a dozen proposed types of this disorder, the most common include:
Major depressive disorder – also known as a clinical or severe depression, this is usually what depression refers to. Teens with this type will usually experience re-occurring episodes.
Manic-depressive disorder – also known as bipolar depression, this disorder is characterized by periods of manic behavior and periods of depressive behavior. Periods typically last a few months.
Perinatal depressive disorder – also known as postpartum depression, perinatal depressive disorder is triggered before, during, or after pregnancy, often caused by hormone imbalance.
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder – as an extension of PMS, PMDD involves sudden depressive symptoms before a patient’s cycle begins, and in some cases the depressive symptoms persist through the cycle.
Seasonal affective disorder – or SAD, this type of depression is associated with a vitamin D deficiency from a lack of sunlight, especially in winter.
Persistent depressive disorder – also known as dysthymia, or mild depression, this is a diagnosis of a consistent and irrational low mood over months and years, not enough to count as MDD, but enough to disrupt life and cause distress.
Situational depression - caused by a life-changing event, such as losing a job, ending a relationship, or losing a family member.
Other types of teen depression, such as psychotic and treatment-resistant depression, also exist. Factors that help diagnose a depressive disorder include genetics, upbringing, behavior, pre-existing physical and mental health conditions, lifestyle, hormone levels, and more.
Depression typically beings during the teen years so it's important to understand what makes a teen more vulnerable to the mental health disorder. Depressive disorders among teens are recognized first through their symptoms and are then diagnosed through a series of tests. Explanations for why depressive symptoms occur vary from teen to teen, but known causes of teen depression include:
Physical diseases - Depression can be triggered by another serious illness, especially those in the brain and endocrine system.
Hormone imbalance – Sometimes caused by hypothyroidism, a genetic condition, or as part of a pregnancy. Endocrinology plays a significant role in a teen’s mood, and depression.
Neurotransmitter imbalance – Some people with depression may struggle with a shortage of certain important mood-regulating neurotransmitters, like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
Chronic pain and chronic fatigue – These conditions are complex, at times a result of genetics, at other times the result of frequent injuries. Constant pain can lead to depression.
Environmental factors – Trauma, bullying, abuse, upbringing, loss, and other environmental factors can increase a teen's vulnerability to depression.
Excessive substance use – Drug use can affect a teen’s brain and mood regulation, causing mood swings, low moods, and depressive symptoms.
Certain personality traits - Teens who struggle with low self-esteem or being too dependent are more prone to developing depression.
Some of these causes of teen depression are a matter of nurture, others are a matter of nature. In most cases, teens experience a combination of both before they have their first depressive episode. After that, episodes may be triggered by something sad, or come out of nowhere.
of teens will experience depression before they reach adulthood
of kids with depression are not getting the help or treatment they need
teens have had at least one major depressive episode in the past year
Educate yourself on teen depression – Becoming more informed on the disorder by learning the signs and symptoms will help you identify depression in your teen early on. The sooner it is identified, the better it can be treated.
Talk to your teen – Talking to your teen can help them feel more supported and less alone. Be sure to ask your teen questions in a non-judgmental way. It’s important to find out if your teen is thinking about suicide. If you believe your teen is in danger, take them to the nearest emergency room.
Seek professional mental health help – A mental health evaluation will let you know if your teen has depression. Once your teen has been properly diagnosed, you can explore the many mental health treatment options available to you.
Get support for yourself – Learning that you teen has a mental health disorder is not easy. Parents often forget that they, too, need support during this time. By attending to your own needs, it allows you to be a more effective parent to your teen.
With teen depression treatment, the bad news is the good news: the bad news is lots of teens in the United States suffer from depression, but the good news is that means there are more depression treatment options and resources available to help you. It also means you’re not alone- many people have gone through similar things, felt at a loss for hope, and then found help that improves things. Some of the teen depression treatment options that are most likely to help quickly and thoroughly are:
A variety of forms of talk therapy that can help a teen gain clarity to what they are feeling, insight as to what improves or worsens those feelings, and relief from the overwhelming sense of isolation. Despite being more common than other mental illnesses, depression is ultimately still often misunderstood, and stigmatized. Talk therapy helps patients work through these fears and feelings of stigma and see their condition in a more truthful light. Finally, engaging in psychotherapy and establishing a genuine connection with a therapist can provide relief and hope, and remind a teen that they are not alone. Common forms of psychotherapy that have been found to be effective in the treatment of teen depression include cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectic behavior therapy, family therapy, and group therapy.
Some cases of teen depression cannot be treated without medication. However, medication is not always effective. Most cases of major depressive disorder tackle depression through medication and therapy, while milder conditions like dysthymia often do not require medication to see symptoms improve. When they do work, antidepressants help a teen with depression feel neutral, rather than experiencing a constant lull, by affecting the perception and release of neurotransmitters in the brain. These drugs often have side effects, making it important to shop around and find the right one, and report any unwanted effects. When a psychiatrist prescribes depression medication, it is important to note that it takes time for the drugs to effectively treat depression. This process can take up to a month. When switching drugs, your psychiatrist will often ask a patient to slowly wean off their previous antidepressants, and stay off medication for a period of time, before testing another medication. It may take several tries before you find the right depression medication for your case, but it’s well worth the wait. Aside from therapy and medication, there are other alternative depression treatment methods.
Residential Mental Health Treatment
Depending on the severity and length of time a teen has been experiencing symptoms of depression, taking time away from their usual lifestyle can be a very positive experience for some teens. Because of the intensity of residential mental health treatment, a teen can cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, and start feeling considerably better, quickly. The other powerful factor of residential teen mental health treatment is getting a chance to clearly process the message that you are not alone, and that getting help in the fight against depression is a good thing.
The most important step is finding professional teen mental health help, as soon as possible, wherever is best for you. Although many people unfortunately try to do so, there’s no reason to face this alone. We believe you should go to the place that best fits your mental health needs, and we welcome you if that place is Paradigm. Here are a few things about how Paradigm’s teen depression treatment is unique:
A Healthy Escape
A teen suffering from depression often has a strong desire to get away from everything. This is why the teen often pulls away from friends, family, and activities. Paradigm can be a healthy escape for teens, helping them find some peace while starting them on the path of depression treatment. Taking refuge away from the bustle of the city can help people feel freer and more open during teen depression treatment.
Not A Big Crowd
Many times, one of the biggest stressors in an adolescent’s life is the huge swarm of people watching, and often judging, every move. It can feel intimidating to be honest and open your feelings, especially when you’re dealing with depression. The small number of people at Paradigm can often make for an easier time in teen depression treatment, giving you the space to focus on your own depression treatment.
This is a top-notch organization with extremely talented therapists, clean and safe
facilities and a staff that genuinely cares about its patients. Our teenaged son was quite honestly a lost cause - or so we thought. He had a dual-diagnosis and was suffering from depression, bi polar disorder and was self medicating with marijuana and pain pills. Now, as a direct result of the people at Paradigm, he is doing so very well. He is clean and sober and is an active participant in his life!
- Brian T.
How do I Know if I’m Actually Depressed?
If you’re experiencing some of the depressive symptoms described here, there is a possibility that you might be experiencing depression. However, self-diagnosis is never a reliable method, and only further complicates things. It’s easier to deny the possibility of something like depression, especially because it can seem like a very scary condition. However, a diagnosis does not magically make your symptoms worse. A depression diagnosis can, however, lead to treatment, which makes you feel better. If you’ve been feeling down, getting checked out by a mental health professional can save you a lot of grief.
Then What Should I Do If I Think I Am?
If you think you might have depression, get confirmation sooner rather than later. It never hurts to know, but it can hurt not knowing. If you don’t know a mental health professional (such as a doctor or psychologist) to talk to, start by talking to a parent, teacher, or mentor you trust. Be honest about how you feel with someone you trust and see if you together can’t find someone to help you understand what’s going on.
Then What Happens?
After a diagnosis, teen depression treatment will depend entirely on a variety of factors, including the specifics of what you’re struggling with and the circumstances you’re living with. Depression treatment has come a long way in just a few decades and living with depression no longer has to be agony. You can lead a happy life with the right mental health treatment. Sometimes, it can take some trial-and-error to figure out what that treatment might be. Be patient and be honest about your feelings and results – it can help professionals make the necessary adjustments to help you find more effective depression treatment.