Teenagers and Depression
By Auguste Duplan,
The thinking around teenage depression has changed significantly in recent
years. The prevalent opinion used to be that children and adolescents simply
did not suffer from depression. However, now we understand that young people
can and do suffer from depression and that this illness is common among
The symptoms of adolescent depression differ in some ways from adult
symptoms. Also, if we think about human beings on a continuum, then we understand
that the capacity to express depression changes as people mature. Young people
cannot always communicate depression in the same
language that adults use.
What are the common symptoms of
Sometimes it is easiest to understand the symptoms if we draw a comparison.
An adult with depression meets specific criteria, the most common of which
include a sad and depressed mood, recurrent thoughts of death, loss of interest
in activities that were previously enjoyable, changes in sleep habits and
appetite, decrease in level of energy, libido, attention and concentration and
feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness for at least a
Adolescents, on the other hand, do not always feel sad; rather, they feel
irritable. They sense that something is not right, but they typically resist
seeking help. Their feelings of irritability and unease often lead to
self-medication in the form of substance abuse and alcohol. It is not uncommon
for their anger to lead to self-mutilation, and to behavioral problems. As the
condition worsens, their performance in school often deteriorates and they
begin a downward spiral of self-defeating behavior, such as cutting classes.
Is adolescent depression on the rise?
Since mental health professionals have opened themselves up to the
possibility, depression in children and in adolescents is more often recognized
and diagnosed than a decade ago. The fall season can be especially difficult
for teenagers as they begin classes. The adjustment to school can be very
stressful, particularly for someone who is already struggling with depression.
Deterioration in school performance is often one of the overt signals of this
What should I do if I think my
teenager is suffering from depression?
If you think your teenager is suffering from depression, the first thing you
should do is talk with your teen. Express your concerns about the changes you
see. Tell your teen that you want him or her to see a professional and be
evaluated. This can be a tough sell because teenagers feel they are invincible,
but it is important to pursue it nevertheless.
Evaluation by a professional is valuable because depression can be caused by
medical conditions that are correctable. Thyroid problems, for example, can
cause depression. We never assume that the problem is psychiatric in nature
until we rule out other possible causes.
You can also enlist help from guidance counselors and teachers. Some parents
are initially alerted to the problems depressed teens experience in school from
a guidance counselor or school social worker or psychologist. In fact, schools
are doing a lot of outreach and education about adolescent depression these
What if my son or daughter is afraid
of what others will think?
Depression left untreated can lead to a bad outcome. If you suspect your
child is depressed, don't wait for the downward spiral to continue: get your
child help. The risks of not dealing with depression are far worse than the
risks associated with getting treatment. If your child is worried about the
stigma that some people associate with psychiatric illness, a support group of
peers can help overcome those worries. Depression among teens is quite common;
we treat many patients with severe depression in the Adolescent Behavioral
Services Unit at Cayuga
Can depression be cured?
Adolescents with depression typically respond well to therapy that includes
medication and talking therapy. We have very good drugs today for treating
depression. Through talking therapy, teens can examine what is stressing them
and, with the help of a therapist, can begin to think differently about those
Depression often recurs. We encourage people to develop a support system of
family, friends, and school contacts. We also try to help them see the value of
engaging that system when things start to go bad, and
not to wait until the situation feels intolerable.
is the attending child and adolescent psychiatrist in the Behavioral Services
Unit at Cayuga Medical Center.
He did his fellowship training in child and adolescent psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill
of Cornell University, where he remains a clinical instructor. He completed a
residency in adult psychiatry at Albert
of Medicine at Bronx-Lebanon Hospital, following an internship in internal
medicine at the State University of Haiti University Hospital.