Teen Depression: What to Know

Signs that you might be depressed, and what to do about it.

From the WebMD Archives

There's a lot going on in your life -- school, friends, relationships, body changes -- so it's no surprise that your emotions are all over the place sometimes.

So how do you know if your roller coaster of feelings is normal or something that could be a problem? Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Have you stopped doing things that you used to really like to do -- like baseball or track, dance, or school clubs? Not that you switched from soccer to lacrosse because you like it better, but instead, are you giving up activities because nothing seems as fun as it used to?
  • When your friends want to go out to the mall or hang out, do you say "no" a lot, because you just don't feel like it?
  • Have your grades been slipping?
  • Do you fight a lot with your parents?
  • Do things annoyyou a lot more lately, for no obvious reason?
  • Do you feel tired a lot, but have trouble going to sleep?
  • Do you find yourself eating a lot to feel better? Or maybe having no appetite?
  • Do you feel guilty or anxious, like there's something wrong with you?
  • Do you ever think it might be better if you weren't around anymore?

If you answer "yes" to more than one or two of these questions -- or even just to the last one -- then you may be depressed. And that means you need help -- now -- to figure out what's going on and what to do about it.  Talk to a parent, your doctor, a counselor, or another adult you trust.  

What Is Depression?

You might say, "I'm not depressed! I don't feel sad all the time." But depression isn't just about feeling sad. It's a "mood disorder" -- that is, it can affect your mood in all kinds of ways.

Some depressed people feel really sad and cry a lot. Others are just grumpy and feel like they hate the world.

"You just feel lousy and can't explain why," says psychiatrist Robert Findling, MD, of Case Western Reserve University.

It can be tricky to tell if you're depressed or just down.

Continued

Everyone gets the blues from time to time. That's different from depression.

Let's say you didn't make the team, broke up with someone, or had a big fight with your best friend. If you're bummed for a couple of weeks and then start feeling better, that's probably not depression. It's normal to feel sad, mad, or frustrated when tough things happen.

"But if you're feeling irritable, grumpy, sad, or down more than half of the time for more than a couple of weeks, that's a problem," says Dallas psychiatrist Graham Emslie, MD.

What Causes Depression?

Depression is not a sign that you're a weak person or a loser.

Depression isn't always exactly the same. For some people, it's so intense that they have trouble getting through the day. For others, it's not as severe, but it goes on for months or even years. Then there's depression that follows a tough time, like the death of someone you love or your parents' divorce.

All of these types of depression can be treated. 

What You Can Do

If you think you may have depression, you may worry that if you seek help you'll get labeled as crazy.

Forget the whole "crazy" thing. That has nothing to do with depression, and it doesn't help anyone.

"In fact, knowing that you have depression is good news in a way, because we do know that there are effective treatments," Emslie says. "Don't assume that we're going to stick you in a hospital or put you on medications you don't want. There's a lot more to it than that."

Some treatment options for depression are:

  • Therapy. You can see a therapist one-on-one, or in a group. Therapy helps you figure out what's going off track in your life, and how you can make changes -- handling school stresses, for example, or working on healthy relationships with friends and family.
  • Lifestyle changes, like getting more exercise, eating well, and finding social support. Many studies have found that exercise can be as effective as medication at treating depression.
  • Antidepressant drugs. Sometimes prescription medicines can help to get your brain chemistry back to normal. There are lots of them. (These medications have been linked, in a few cases, to suicidal thinking in young people, so if you find your thoughts getting worsewhile on medication, tell your parents and doctor right away.)

Continued

You and your doctor would come up with a plan that works for you. Therapy and lifestyle change are recommended, whether or not you also take antidepressants. It's about more than taking a pill.

"We know that kids with moderate to severe depression may do better with medication and counseling than either one alone," Findling says. "But if you feel strongly about not taking medications, there are other options that are effective too. You can generally see real benefit from treatment within a couple of months, but you have to start somewhere."

Suicidal Thoughts?

Many teens (and adults) deal with depression, but not everyone who is depressed has thoughts of suicide. 

If you find yourself thinking that you'd rather be dead or that the world would be a better place without you -- or if you hear a friend saying things like that -- don't hesitate. Call for help right away. If you call 1-800-273-TALK, you can speak confidentially to someone who will help you deal with your feelings. Or call 911.

Remember:

  • Don't do anything that you can't undo later. Suicide is never a good answer.
  • If you're afraid of what you might do to yourself, make sure that someone responsible is always with you.
  • Depression can make you think all sorts of things. That doesn't mean you're bad, or stupid, or broken. It just means you need some help getting through a tough situation. Sometimes we all do.

 

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on November 17, 2011

Sources

SOURCES:

Robert Findling, MD, Rocco L. Motto, MD, Chair of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland.

Graham Emslie, MD, Charles E. and Sarah M. Seay Chair in Child Psychiatry, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas.

KidsHealth: "Depression."

Trivedi, M. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, May 2011.

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