Teenage Depression is a very Real & Growing Issue in the U.S.
It’s a well known fact that the teenage years are defined by periods of high stress, drama, and – of course – plenty of angst. Between anxiety over having a date to the Prom and the stress of balancing AP classes and college applications, it’s understandable that teens aren’t jumping for joy, skipping around and singing like the high schoolers in a Disney Channel movie. Like most people – perhaps even more than most people – teens have bad days, moments of extreme sadness and feelings of fear and inadequacy. However, these feelings aren’t always simply explained as “just part of growing up.” Sometimes, there is a deeper underlying problem behind the ordinary stress and anxiety that most teens feel.
More Than Teenage Moodiness
If you’re a teen reading this article, and you’ve experienced these feelings before, you’re probably nodding right along with me, and thinking:
“Yes, finally, somebody gets it. If you’re not a teen reading this article, though, you might be thinking, Now, wait just a minute. I was a teenager once, and I got through it just fine, so my teen will too. This is just a bad day, just a teenage phase.
This, right here, is a part of the problem. While teenage unhappiness and angst are nothing new, the number of teens in recent years who have experienced a major depressive episode is – and this number is only continuing to grow. As adults in our communities, we need to help our teens to overcome the depression that is becoming more and more a part of their daily lives. Because teenage depression is more than simply a bad day and it is definitely more than a “teenage phase.”
What Is a Major Depressive Episode, And What Do Growing Numbers Mean for Teens?
A major depressive episode, or, an MDE, is the presence of a low mood (most of the time) for a period of at least two weeks. Studies have shown that females are more likely to experience an MDE. This is partly because cyber bullying occurs more often among, or against, females. Social media apps like Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, used extensively by female teens, allow them to critique each other’s appearances and lifestyles on a much grander scale. Other factors that have been known to lead to an MDE include: living in a single parent home, experiencing or witnessing violence, and economic struggles.
Now, we have already acknowledged that teens are moody and certainly experience bad days, and sometimes even bad weeks, as we all do. So, we shouldn’t go jumping to the conclusion that every time a teen slams a door, or cries after a hard day of school that they are experiencing an MDE. With that being said, how can you tell if your teen is in the midst of a major depressive episode?
The biggest indicator would be duration. A “bad day” could last for as little as a couple of hours. A major depressive episode will last a minimum of two weeks, possibly longer. Of course, there are other indicators for an MDE as well. Here are some questions you can ask yourself about your teen’s behavior if you think he or she may be experiencing an MDE:
- Is my teen displaying increasingly low levels of self esteem?
- Has my teen lost interest in activities he or she normally enjoys?
- Is my teen losing sleep and/or energy?
- Is my teen having trouble concentrating?
For a more comprehensive list of symptoms for teen depression, you can also refer to October fourteenth’s blog post, “Identifying the Signs and Symptoms of Teenage Depression.”
The growing number of MDEs experienced by teens in the U.S. has led to other disturbing trends, the most alarming of which are a rise in the number of incidents of suicidal behavior and an increase in the number of teens engaging in acts of self-harm. When teens feel a hopeless and overwhelming sadness, often they cannot find a way out. They do not know how to deal with the anxiety they are experiencing, and so they resort to drastic measures such as these.
If you feel that your teen is displaying suicidal tendencies or engaging in acts of self-harm (such as cutting or burning skin, or using drugs), seek professional help right away. If you are a teen and feel you are having thoughts of engaging in self-harm or suicidal behaviors, reach out immediately.
There Is a Disconnect Between Levels of Major Depression and Mental Health Treatments Available for Teens
Although instances of major depression are becoming more and more common in teens, the same cannot be said for mental health treatments for teens. Some of this is due to a lack of resources. Though counselors at schools are professionally trained to identify symptoms of depression in teens, it is nearly impossible for them to catch everything. This can result in teens feeling as though they are invisible and that there is nowhere for them to turn.
This disconnect can also come from a lack of understanding of what teenage depression actually is. It can be easy to brush off an irritable attitude or a lack of engagement in ordinary activities as “that typical teenage moodiness.” And the occasional bad grade is just a normal part of high school, right?
While these statements can be true in some cases, symptoms or warning signs can also be “swept under the rug” or explained away. And when this happens, the problem grows as the teen does not receive treatment and may even feel unheard or misunderstood. Ultimately, it is important to remember that depression is a serious mental disorder and should always be taken seriously.
So, What Can You Do?
If you are a parent reading this article and have concerns that your teen may be suffering from depression, your first step would be to look for the warning signs. In a world where school counselors are swamped with students and teens feel unheard and unnoticed, be a resource for yours. Hear their concerns and respond accordingly. Most importantly, let your teen know that you are there for them. Not feeling alone can make all the difference in how well your teen is or is not able to cope with his or her depression.
If you are a teen reading this article, understand that depression is not “just a part of growing up.” It is not just “a typical teenage phase.” It can be a serious illness that needs attention. Reach out to those around you, whether that be your parents, your counselors at school, or other trusted adults. Don’t internalize your feelings; instead, share them with those that you trust and those that love you. Most importantly, realize that, although you may feel this way more often than not, you are NOT alone.
Share Your Experience
Do you feel like you may suffer from major depression, or know someone who does? Do you have any advice for anyone who may be experiencing a similar struggle? Please comment below and leave your story! We would love to hear from you and help you engage with the Core Coaching Groups community.