Teen depression is a serious medical problem that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities. It affects how your teen thinks, feels and behaves, and it can cause emotional, functional and physical problems. Although mood disorders, such as depression, can occur at any time in life, symptoms may be different between teens and adults.
Issues such as peer pressure, academic expectations and changing bodies can bring a lot of ups and downs for teens. But for some teens, the lows are more than just temporary feelings — they're a symptom of depression.
Teen depression isn't a weakness or something that can be overcome with willpower — it can have serious consequences and requires long-term treatment. For most teens, depression symptoms ease with treatment such as medication and psychological counseling.
Teen depression signs and symptoms include changes in your teen's emotions and behavior, such as the examples below.
What's normal and what's not
If depression symptoms continue or begin to interfere in your teen's life, talk to a doctor or a mental health professional trained to work with adolescents. Your teen's family doctor or pediatrician is a good place to start. Or your teen's school may recommend someone.
When to see a doctor
If you're a teen and you think you may be depressed — or you have a friend who may be depressed — don't wait to get help. Talk to a health care professional such as your doctor or school nurse. Share your concerns with a parent, a close friend, a spiritual leader, a teacher or someone else you trust.
When to get emergency help
It's not known exactly what causes depression. A variety of factors may be involved. These include:
Many factors increase the risk of developing or triggering teen depression, including:
Family history and issues with family or others may also increase your teen's risk of depression:
Untreated depression can result in emotional, behavioral and health problems that affect every area of your teen's life. Complications related to teen depression can include:
Preparing for your appointment
You may choose to start by contacting your teen's family doctor or pediatrician. In some cases, you may be referred directly to a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.
What you can do
Basic questions to ask the doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask questions any time you don't understand something.
What to expect from your teen's doctor
Tests and diagnosis
When teen depression is suspected, the doctor will generally do these exams and tests.
Diagnostic criteria for depression
Symptoms can be based on your teen's feelings or on the observations of someone else. For a diagnosis of major depression, the following symptoms must occur most of the day, nearly every day, during at least a two-week period, and be a change or worsening in the teen's usual attitude and behavior.
Your teen must have at least one of the following:
Your teen must also have four or more of the following:
To be considered major depression:
Other types of major depression include:
Other conditions that cause depression symptoms
Treatments and drugs
Many types of treatment are available. In some cases, a primary care doctor can prescribe medications that relieve depression symptoms. However, many teens need to see a psychiatrist or psychologist or other mental health counselor. A combination of medications and psychological counseling (psychotherapy) is very effective for most teens with depression.
If your teen has severe depression or is in danger of self-harm, he or she may need a hospital stay or may need to participate in an outpatient treatment program until symptoms improve.
Here's a closer look at depression treatment options.
Talk with your teen's doctor and pharmacist about possible side effects, weighing the benefits and risks. In some cases, side effects may go away as the body adjusts to the medication.
Antidepressants and increased suicide risk
If your teen has suicidal thoughts while taking an antidepressant, immediately contact your doctor or get emergency help.
For most teens, the benefits of taking an antidepressant generally outweigh any possible risks. In the long run, antidepressants are likely to reduce suicidal thinking or behavior.
Finding the right medication
If your teen has bothersome side effects, he or she shouldn't stop taking an antidepressant without talking to the doctor first. Some antidepressants can cause withdrawal symptoms unless the dose is slowly tapered off — quitting suddenly may cause a sudden worsening of depression. Encourage your teen not to give up.
If antidepressant treatment doesn't seem to be working, your teen's doctor may recommend a blood test called cytochrome P450 (CYP450) to check for specific genes that affect how the body processes antidepressants. This may help identify which antidepressant might be a good choice. However, these genetic tests have limitations and may not be widely available.
Antidepressants and pregnancy
Through these regular sessions, your teen can learn about the causes of depression, how to identify and make changes in unhealthy behaviors or thoughts, explore relationships and experiences, find better ways to cope and solve problems, and set realistic goals. Psychotherapy can help your teen regain a sense of happiness and control and help ease depression symptoms such as hopelessness and anger. It may also help your teen adjust to a crisis or other current difficulty.
Hospitalization and other treatment programs
Lifestyle and home remedies
You are your teen's best advocate to help him or her succeed. Here are some steps you and your teen can take that may help:
Avoid replacing conventional medical treatment or psychotherapy with alternative medicine. When it comes to depression, alternative treatments aren't a substitute for professional care. But some mind-body therapies may help.
Relying solely on these therapies is generally not enough to treat depression. But they may be helpful when used in addition to medication and psychotherapy.
Coping and support
Showing interest and the desire to understand your teen's feelings lets him or her know you care. You may not understand why your teen feels hopeless or why he or she has a sense of loss or failure. Listen to your teen without judging and try to put yourself in his or her position. Help build your teen's self-esteem by recognizing small successes and offering praise about his or her competence.
Encourage your teen to:
There's no sure way to prevent depression. However, these strategies may help. Encourage your teen to:
Last Updated: 2012-11-07
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