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Teen Depression: What to Know

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

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.)

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.


  • 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.


Reviewed on November 17, 2011

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