Depression in Teens

It’s not unusual for young people to experience “the blues” or feel “down in the dumps” occasionally. Adolescence is always an unsettling time, with the many physical, emotional, psychological and social changes that accompany this stage of life.

Unrealistic academic, social, or family expectations can create a strong sense of rejection and can lead to deep disappointment. When things go wrong at school or at home, teens often overreact. Many young people feel that life is not fair or that things “never go their way.” They feel “stressed out” and confused. To make matters worse, teens are bombarded by conflicting messages from parents, friends and society. Today’s teens see more of what life has to offer — both good and bad — on television, at school, in magazines and on the Internet.

Teens need adult guidance more than ever to understand all the emotional and physical changes they are experiencing. When teens’ moods disrupt their ability to function on a day-to-day basis, it may indicate a serious emotional or mental disorder that needs attention — adolescent depression. Parents or caregivers must take action.

Dealing With Adolescent Pressures

When teens feel down, there are ways they can cope with these feelings to avoid serious depression. All of these suggestions help develop a sense of acceptance and belonging that is so important to adolescents.

  • Try to make new friends. Healthy relationships with peers are central to teens’ self-esteem and provide an important social outlet.
  • Participate in sports, job, school activities or hobbies. Staying busy helps teens focus on positive activities rather than negative feelings or behaviors.
  • Join organizations that offer programs for young people. Special programs geared to the needs of adolescents help develop additional interests.
  • Ask a trusted adult for help. When problems are too much to handle alone, teens should not be afraid to ask for help.

But sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, teens become depressed. Many factors can contribute to depression. Studies show that some depressed people have too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Also, a family history of depression may increase the risk for developing depression. Other factors that can contribute to depression are difficult life events (such as death or divorce), side-effects from some medications and negative thought patterns.

Recognizing Adolescent Depression

Adolescent depression is increasing at an alarming rate. Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression. This is a serious problem that calls for prompt, appropriate treatment. Depression can take several forms, including bipolar disorder (formally called manic-depression), which is a condition that alternates between periods of euphoria and depression.

Depression can be difficult to diagnose in teens because adults may expect teens to act moody. Also, adolescents do not always understand or express their feelings very well. They may not be aware of the symptoms of depression and may not seek help.

These symptoms may indicate depression, particularly when they last for more than two weeks:

  • Poor performance in school
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Sadness and hopelessness
  • Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation
  • Anger and rage
  • Overreaction to criticism
  • Feelings of being unable to satisfy ideals
  • Poor self-esteem or guilt
  • Indecision, lack of concentration or forgetfulness
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Substance abuse
  • Problems with authority
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

Teens may experiment with drugs or alcohol or become sexually promiscuous to avoid feelings of depression. Teens also may express their depression through hostile, aggressive, risk-taking behavior. But such behaviors only lead to new problems, deeper levels of depression and destroyed relationships with friends, family, law enforcement or school officials.

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