As a teen, your brain is working pretty hard. From getting good grades to reacting to peer pressure to making life-altering decisions like if or where you’ll go to college, or whom you’ll date or befriend, your mind is constantly on overdrive – all while it’s still developing!
Now imagine that, with everything you’re already dealing with every day, you also had a brain that was lying to you. That’s what depression is like.
Depression tells you that nothing matters when it does, that no one likes you when they do, that there’s no hope when there is, and worst of all, that you shouldn’t bother trying – when you absolutely should. Depression is like wearing dark glasses on a bright, beautiful day, preventing you from seeing – much less, enjoying – the sunshine.
Depression is a real problem, but it’s also treatable. As a teen, that’s just one of many things you need to know about this all-too-common mental illness.
It’s more than a bad day
Everyone gets down now and then. But depression is more than a bad day. Clinical depression is a mental illness that keeps you feeling helpless, hopeless and extremely sad for an extended period – longer than two weeks. Depression doesn’t just alter your outlook on life – it interferes with your life. If you’re suddenly not interested in things you used to enjoy, you can’t bring yourself to care about your school work or you’re not motivated to even get out of bed in the morning, you may have depression.
You may not recognize it
With one in five teens suffering from depression, chances are you know someone who is depressed – even if they don’t know it. That’s because the symptoms of depression are often overlooked by teens or dismissed by their parents, friends or loved ones as “typical” teenage angst. That’s why it’s critical to be able to recognize the symptoms of depression in yourself or a friend. These include isolating yourself from family, friends and loved ones, unexplained weight loss or gain, sleeping more or less than normal, declining grades or increased school absences, feeling more tired than normal, inexplicable aches and pains, feeling “foggy” or finding it difficult to think clearly, difficulty controlling anger or experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide. For a more complete list of symptoms, visit Mayo Clinic.
It can lead to suicide
What’s scarier than living every day feeling hopeless and helpless? Not wanting to live anymore, period. While not all cases of depression lead to suicide, most teens who attempt suicide are depressed – in fact, you’ll find that most of the warning signs for suicide are also symptoms of depression. If you feel depressed and find yourself thinking about suicide or making plans, please ask for help. Go to your parents or an adult you trust and tell them how you’re feeling. If a friend is showing warning signs, or making suicide plans, get emergency help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a great resource if you’re not sure where to start. Or, if you or a friend is in immediate danger, always call 911.
Your lifestyle habits could help – or hurt
If you have depression, it’s not your fault. Depression can be caused by many factors, ranging from genetics to hormones to trauma. That said, there are certain habits and behaviors known to exacerbate or even cause depression in teens. These include family trauma like abuse, death or divorce, peer pressure or bullying, low self-esteem, anxiety issues, substance abuse and technology addiction. Additionally, teens with ADHD or who are LGBTQ are more likely to experience depression. My book, Beneath the Surface: A Teen’s Guide for Reaching Out When You or Your Friend is in Crisis, includes a complete list of risk factors.
There is hope
When you understand that depression is a treatable illness, it loses some of its power over you. Recognizing the symptoms of depression is the first step in learning to cope with it. Depression can be treated both through medication as well as lifestyle factors, so it’s important to talk to a doctor, therapist or psychiatrist if you suspect you’re depressed.
Your teenage years are complicated. But they’re also filled with discovery and excitement. Don’t let depression keep you from enjoying them. For more information on teen depression, mental illness and suicide, read Beneath the Surface: A Teen’s Guide for Reaching Out When You or Your Friend is in Crisis.
About the Author: Kristi HUGSTAD, Monthly Mentor, is the author of Beneath the Surface: A Teen’s Guide to Reaching Out when You or Your Friend Is in Crisis. Ever since her husband completed suicide in 2012, after years of struggling with clinical depression, by running in front of a train, she has dedicated her life to helping to abolish the stigma of mental illness and suicide. A certified grief recovery specialist and a grief and loss facilitator for recovering addicts at South Coast Behavioral Health, Kristi frequently speaks at high schools. She is also the host of The Grief Girl podcast and lives in Orange County, California. Read More…