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How Does Depression Affect Teenagers?


Depression is a mood disorder that can strike teens as easily as adults. The major difference come from how the depressed individual reacts to the symptoms. Adults are much more likely to have resources they can rely on for advice and are also more likely to have the means to seek medical treatment. Commonly, a teenager doesn’t have this route to act directly and must seek help from a trusted adult. This makes it less likely that a teen will get treatment in a timely manner.

Visible Effects

For those concerned about how depression affects teens, there are a few visible signs that might tip you off:
• Falling grades
• A lack of interest in school activities. Since most teen activities revolve around school, withdrawal and an inability to participate can indicate problems.
• Withdrawal from other relationships – especially those most enjoyable. This can be family, friends or coworkers.
• Experiments with drugs, sex or alcohol. The teen who is depressed may try to find a remedy for the emotional pain by escape into harmful behaviors.
• Loss of interest in life goals. This goes along with a feeling of isolation and an inability to take useful action on their own behalf.
• Poor sleeping habits –either too much or too little, especially when sleep takes the place of what would normally be an enjoyable activity.
• Diet changes and weight changes. Appetite may suffer if food no longer gives any sense of satisfaction, or, food may become a kind of therapy and lead to weight gain.

Hidden Effects

The feelings that come with teen depression parallel all depression – a sense of sadness, melancholy, lassitude, fatigue and hopelessness. However, for a teen, these can be experienced as much more painful or severe. After all, they don’t have the life experience to understand at a logical level that things will get better. They may believe there will be no end and life is meaningless.

Suicide is a risk. Thoughts about death and dying, or even conversations about suicide are serious tip offs and shouldn’t be ignored. When the dialogue is only internal, this can be hard to spot without opening up a conversation about feelings. In the modern world, it is common for teens to share with others online. They may also explore information on the net about suicide.

Teens may hide their inner turmoil and shrug off attempts by parents to communicate. They may feel ashamed that they aren’t “normal” or fear being medicated. Parents may mistake the behaviors as just the normal teenage angst. However, depression can hang around for weeks or months, unlike the normal cycles of up and down all adolescents experience.

Sometimes, the only way to get at the true feelings is getting a third party – a therapist, counselor or pastor – to speak to them. Having an adult confidant will give them a safety valve and a change to air out their hidden selves without having to worry about parental approval. This doesn’t have to be formal depression treatment, but can be an informal advice session.

Photo by John Nyboer

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