Depression in Teens: How to Tell if You are Depressed and Get the Help You Need
Everyone feels blue sometimes – feeling sad is a normal part of life. But there's a big difference between feeling sad because of an event that occurred in your life or you're stressed out, and the persistent feelings of sadness that indicate depression. Depressive teens can be even more difficult to recognize due to the normal 'moodiness' that is often associated with teenagers, but the symptoms of clinical depression are far more diverse than you might expect.
Signs of Depression
One thing that many people don't know about depression is that it encompasses much more than just 'feeling sad'. If you are suffering from depression, you may also be experiencing a wide variety of symptoms beyond negative feelings. Unfortunately, the symptoms are different for different people, which can make them more difficult to recognize.
The most common and recognizable effects of depression occur in the mind and emotions. If you are depressed, you may be experiencing feelings of guilt, hopelessness, worthlessness, emptiness, along with a low mood that is fairly constant and lasts for a long time. You may also find yourself losing interest in hobbies or activities that you previously enjoyed, and your desire to spend time with friends may decrease. The most serious mental effect of depression is thoughts of suicide, which may be persistent and disturbing.
Depression also has physical effects. It can cause you to be unable to sleep (insomnia) or to want to sleep all the time (hypersomnia). It can cause you to overeat or to lose interest in food, which can result in gaining or losing weight. You may even experience headaches, stomach aches, or a lack of energy that cannot easily be explained.
What to do if You are Depressed
If you have been experiencing symptoms of depression that won't seem to go away, it is very important that you seek help. While you may feel that you have to hide your feelings, depression is too serious for you to try to deal with on your own.
Your first resource should be your parents. It's possible that your parents or caregivers haven't noticed that you have been exhibiting signs of depression, or that they have chalked it up to rebellion or 'normal teen moodiness'. As difficult as it may be, talking to your parents and explaining to them that you've been experiencing feelings that go beyond 'just hormones' is the first step to getting help. Once you've had that initial conversation with your parents, you'll likely feel as though a heavy weight has been lifted off of you – you finally have someone 'on your side'.
Your parents can help you handle your depression. If your depression is occurring or being made worse by an event or situation you are in, they may be able to help change the situation. This could mean changing schools or removing you from stressful situations such as a demanding part time job. Your parents can also help you find a counsellor or psychiatrist for you to talk to.
There are, however, some situations in which talking to your parents is not an option. You may be worried that they won't understand, or that you'll get in trouble. Or, perhaps you've already tried talking to them and they haven't taken you seriously. If you find yourself in this position, don't give up.
If talking to your parents doesn't work, your next best bet is another trusted adult. This could be a family friend, your family doctor, a grandparent, a coach, or even a teacher. Your school may also have a counsellor specifically for students in your situation. A counsellor doesn't have to tell your parents about anything that you discuss with them, and can connect you to resources that are designed for teens with depression.
If you feel that schoolwork or other problems in the classroom are contributing to your depression, they may even be able (with your permission) to speak with your teachers and have them work out a plan (such as extended deadlines on projects or permission to do your work outside the classroom) to help you.
Finally, if you feel that you can't talk to a parent or trusted adult, there are numerous hotlines that were created specifically for people in your situation. When you call one of these hotlines, you will be connected with a volunteer or support worker who will talk to you about your problems and provide you with support. Your call is confidential and the person you speak to will not tell anyone the details of your conversation unless they feel that you present an immediate danger to yourself or others (as is the case with any mental health professional).
There are many of these hotlines available to you. You can find them in the phone book, online, or by calling 411. The following two will work no matter which state you're in:
These hotlines will help you if you need someone to talk to. However, if you feel that you are in immediate suicidal danger, tell an adult immediately or call 911.
It is important that you remember that depression is a real disease, just like cancer or diabetes. And just like cancer or diabetes, it can be fatal if left untreated. Unfortunately, because of the social stigma attached to depression, some people don't take it seriously or treat it like the disease that it is. These people may tell you to "snap out of it" or "suck it up". Don't allow people like this to convince you that your suffering is your fault.
Acceptance of depression as a disease is increasing every day, and more resources are becoming available for people just like you. Don't give up hope – it gets better.