Major depressive disorder is much, much more than a bad mood or a case of the blues. Unfortunately, even with considerable increases in public awareness of the presence and very real dangers of depression and other mental health challenges, considerable misunderstandings persist regarding the true nature of major depressive disorder.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the following are among the most common symptoms of depression:
• Agitation, restlessness, and irritability
• Dramatic change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss
• Very difficult to concentrate
• Fatigue and lack of energy
• Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
• Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, and guilt
• Becoming withdrawn or isolated
• Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed
• Thoughts of death or suicide
• Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping
A depressed teen may also seem restless, irritable, anxious, or belligerent. You may notice he or she is having trouble getting along with peers, siblings, and authority figures. Teachers may report the child is skipping classes or not paying attention in class. Your teen might start paying less attention to his or her appearance and hygiene, or may seem to spend much more time alone, possibly even dropping out of the usual activities they enjoy (sports, hobbies, music lessons).
If you are a parent with a teen whose behavior has changed and negative patterns have existed for more than 2 weeks, please contact a local mental health practitioner with expertise in treating children and adolescents to further assess the situation. Depression responds best to therapy and treatment when it is identified early.
It is important to understand that there are many types of depression (including chronic depression, atypical depression, postpartum depression and seasonal affective disorder). In most cases, a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (which is also sometimes referred to as major depression and clinical depression) is called for when a person has experienced symptoms such as the ones listed above for a week or longer, and with such severity that their ability to conduct their daily lives has been impacted.
Major depressive disorder commonly manifests in adults between the ages of 20 and 40 – but major depressive disorder can affect adolescents and teenagers. Mental health experts estimate that about five percent (or one of every 20) U.S. teens are struggling with depression at any given time.
It is important that parents or other caregivers who suspect that a young person who is suffering with major depressive disorder take the necessary steps to confirm these suspicions and get whatever help is necessary to overcome the depression. Though the adolescent and teenage years can be tumultuous times, major depressive disorder is neither “a phase” nor an inevitable part of growing up. Major depressive disorder is a very real and very serious condition that, if left untreated, can lead to myriad negative outcomes.
The consequences of untreated depression can be increased incidence of depression in adulthood, involvement in the criminal justice system, or in some cases, suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24. Even more shocking, it is the sixth leading cause of death among children ages 5-14. The most troubling fact is that these struggling teens often receive no counseling, therapy, or medical intervention, even though the National Institute of Mental Health reports that studies show treatments of depression in children and adolescents can be effective.