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Teen Health


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By Jennifer Ashton, M.D., Ob-Gyn with Christine Larson
WebMD Feature by “The Body Scoop for Girls”


True depression isn’t just feeling sad—it’s a partial or total transformation of your personality. Sadness, hopelessness, and despair flood your life and affect your every thought and action. If you’re clinically depressed, you might cry all the time or constantly feel anxious. You might withdraw from your family and friends, stop enjoying your usual activities, have trouble sleeping or eating, or even think about suicide or hurting yourself. Most teens feel some of these things some of the time, but the feelings pass fairly soon. But true depression doesn’t go away on its own.

Signs of Depression

  • Deep sadness, despair, guilt, or hopelessness
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Tearfulness and crying
  • Irritability, anger, or anxiety
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Did You Know?

ADD Can Masquerade as Bipolar Disorder

Some studies suggest that as many as 15 percent of children with bipolar disorder actually have attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and have been misdiagnosed.

Usually depression appears in teens around age fifteen. It’s twice as likely to affect girls as boys, since girls are more likely to internalize depressive feelings. Internalizing feelings doesn’t mean you never talk about your emotions. It means you take thoughts or feelings to a deeper level and harness them emotionally rather than physically. Boys who feel sad or depressed are more likely to act out—through fights, drug or alcohol use, or defiant behavior.

It’s easy for adults to miss depression in teens. After all, many parents expect teens to be moody or behave erratically sometimes. Plus, a depressed teen might be so difficult to be around that adults closest to her might not see the signs. And teen depression symptoms aren’t identical to adult depression signs. Some depressed adults simply curl up in bed and stop functioning; teens usually have to keep getting up and going to school, so they’re forced to keep functioning, sort of. And depressed teens sometimes rally and go out with friends. This all makes it hard for parents to believe their daughter is depressed: “But she still goes out with her friends,” parents tell me. In fact, it’s so easy to miss depression in teens that some experts say less than half of adolescents with depression receive any treatment.

Cutting and Other Self-Injuries

Here’s a disturbing trend thought to be on the rise among U.S. teens and preteens: self-inflicted cuts, burns, and scratches. Some experts think this is a way to cope with stress; others see it as a way to punish oneself; still others suggest it’s a way to fit in with peers. Whatever the reason, sometimes girls repeatedly cut, burn, scratch, or even bite their arms or other body parts.

Studies have shown that girls who cut themselves are more likely to have difficulty expressing their emotions safely as adults. Sometimes people who injure themselves like this suffer from underlying depression or anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder. If you or someone you know is cutting, please find help right away. Talk to an adult you trust about the problem. This behavior requires professional treatment.

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