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What You Need To Know About Depression

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

By Catherine Karega | Updated February 28, 2022

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Depression (major depressive disorder/ clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating or working.

Depression in both teens and adults causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.

It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease your ability to function at work, school and home.

Symptoms of depression

Teen depression signs and symptoms include a change from the teenager’s previous attitude and behavior that can cause significant distress and problems at school or home, in social activities, or in other areas of life.

The symptoms can vary from mild to severe. Changes in your teen’s emotions and behavior include:

Emotional changes

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed

  • Feeling worthless, guilty, or hopeless

  • Irritable or annoyed mood

  • Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends

  • Low self-esteem

  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance

  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions

  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Behavioral changes

  • Change in appetite- either weight loss or weight gain unrelated to dieting

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions

  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much

  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue, or feeling “slowed down”

  • Use of alcohol or drugs

  • Angry outburst, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors

  • Social isolation

  • Poor school performance or frequent absence from school

  • Self-harm, for example cutting or burning

Depression in adolescents can often be missed possibly because of irritability, mood reactivity, and fluctuating symptoms in teens.

It can also be missed if the primary presenting issues are unexplained physical symptoms, eating disorders, anxiety, refusal to attend school, decline in academic performance, substance misuse or behavioral problems.

What causes depression?

Like many mental health disorders, there can be various issues that are involved in leading to depression. These factors often interact with each other to increase the likelihood of developing depression. These include:

  • Brain chemistry- When neurotransmitters are abnormal or impaired, the function of nerve receptors and nerve systems changes leading to depression.

  • Hormones- Changes in the body’s balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression.

  • Inherited traits- Offspring of parents who have depression face higher rates of depression compared to offspring of healthy parents. This predisposition however, is not predestination.

  • Early childhood trauma- Traumatic experiences during childhood, such as physical or emotional abuse, or loss of a parent, may cause changes in the brain that increase the risk of depression.

  • Learned patterns of negative thinking- Teen depression may be linked to learning to feel helpless- rather than learning to feel capable of finding solutions for life ‘s challenges.

Diagnosis

To determine appropriate treatment, a diagnosis needs to be made by a trained and qualified mental health professional. If you suspect that your teenager may have depression, it is wise to speak with a therapist/ counselor about your observations. It also helps to have your teen talk to the same professional about their own experience.

Treatment

As in many psychological disorders, treatment of depression requires a collaborative effort for a successful intervention.

Mild symptoms of depression can be addressed effectively through therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and InterPersonal Therapy. These types of therapy can help people with depression by teaching them new ways of thinking and behaving and how to change habits that contribute to depression.

More severe symptoms of depression require diagnosis and treatment using antidepressants prescribed by a psychiatrist. Antidepressants may help improve the way your brain uses certain chemicals that control mood or stress. While on medication, working with a therapist also helps to address the emotional and behavioral issues presented. Antidepressants take some time to work and have varying effects on different people. Working with a therapist while on antidepressants can help by having someone to walk through the changes with.


Depression is one of the more chronic forms of mental disorders that can recur even after successful treatment. People living with depression can learn positive coping skills that help to alleviate some symptoms. Coping skills can be very effective when done in conjunction with therapy treatment.


By Catherine Karega, MA Clinical Psychology


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