By Dr. Gail Gross
in five teenagers has clinical depression, and less than 30% of
those teenagers receive therapy. Teenage depression is sometimes
difficult to distinguish from other psychological problems such
as anxiety or attention deficit. Therefore, it is important to know
the signs. With early detection, depression is one of the easiest
disorders to remediate. Because teenage depression has several causes,
it is important to get a diagnosis from a healthcare professional
in the field of psychiatry. It is also important to know your child.
Stress, a characteristic of adolescence, grieving, academic problems
and social conflicts, if not addressed, can lead to depression.
The teenage years are filled with what Freud called "strum
und angst", meaning the emotional highs and lows that accompany
both hormonal changes and, in some cases, hereditary. It is noted
that teenagers are at a very high risk of suicide from depression.
teens are depressed and suicidal, it is as if they are looking down
a tunnel and, as they move down the tunnel, they run out of options
to solve their problems. Ultimately they may see suicide as the
only solution. Depression has many characteristics: biological,
environmental and psychological and it can take many forms such
as bipolar disorder. There is, in some cases, a hereditary link
and new studies implicate subtleties such as rainy seasons, light
and dark. Teenagers that are depressed act differently than their
adult counterparts. Teenagers tend to disconnect from their feelings
and therefore, though down, may not appear depressed. However, what
is characteristic is a change in behavior.
TO LOOK FOR:
" It is important to look for changes in eating habits, sleeping
habits, sexual behavior, school performance, social relationships,
withdrawal, any food or substance abuse, sensitivity to correction,
overreaction, tears or aggression, anger, agitation, distrust of
authority, and lack of self esteem. An overall malaise can often
be observed where children feel exhausted and have problems with
simple everyday tasks.
In a sense, life has lost its joie de vive; children have lost their
joy of living. This can be seen even in their physical appearance
as well as the reflection of who they are: their room, their car,
and other environmental surroundings. They may complain of physical
aches and pains, headaches and stomach aches, or they may talk about
dying and even start giving away some of their favorite possessions.
CAN PARENTS HELP?
" Remember adolescence is a time of intense feeling and beside
the obvious biological cause, there is also the need to individuate
and separate from adult authority. This process moves the adolescent
towards their peers for support in this separation process. As a
result, everything is exaggerated in its severity; fights with boyfriends,
a bad grade, an argument with sibs or mom and dad. Knowing this,
parents can create a safe space for their children where empathy
becomes part of the way we communicate with our teens.
Listen to your children - they will tell you everything. Be authentic.
Adolescents look at parents with a critical eye and are very reactive
to hypocrisy. Don't set unrealistic goals for your children.
Don't pressure your children to fulfill your unfulfilled hopes and
dreams - either athletically, academically or socially. Unrealistic
expectations can make children feel undervalued and this loss of
self esteem can lead to feelings of worthlessness; that there must
be something wrong with them. Without adult coping skills teens
become oversensitive as one problem builds on another. Ultimately,
there is a tipping point when children feel over-stressed. This
leads to confusion and many times bad choices. Parents must parent
and they must model and teach the rules of life to their children,
taking into account the emotional and physical transitions that
their children are experiencing.
Using the empathic process, parents can teach their children coping
skills to help them be aware of their feelings and actively deal
with them. To be proactive rather than reactive will lower their
stress and help protect them against depression.
All teenagers want to feel loved and accepted. Help your children
with social skills - teach them how to be a friend so that they
can make a friend. Give them direction with hobbies including sports.
Teach responsible outcomes for positive effort such an after school
job. Find out their passions, their interests, and help them participate
in school clubs and other types of programs - and know your child's
If they have experienced familial divorce or the loss of a parent
or a sibling, even a meaningful pet, then if necessary, seek professional
help for your child.
AND TREATMENT SHOULD BE MADE BY A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL IN THE FIELD
depression is most successfully treated in a multi-disciplined way,
2. Medication (when needed) - anti-depressants are very effective
when called for and can change a child's mental stasis in just a
3. Behavior modification - which gives your child skills to become
self actualized as they learn to manage their own stress.
- depression is a very treatable condition and requires each family
member to know one another so that they can recognize a cry for
Gail Gross is a nationally recognized expert, author and lecturer
on juvenile education, behavior and development issues. Dr. Gross
and her husband, Jenard, founded The Cuney Home School in partnership
with Texas Southern University. Dr. Gross received a B.S. in education
and psychology and an Ed.D. from the University of Houston. She
earned her master's degree in secondary education with a focus in
psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. She is
a former teacher in the Houston Independent School District. Visit
Dr. Gross at www.drgailgross.com.
information presented on this site is intended solely as a general
educational aid, and is neither medical nor healthcare advice for
any individual problem, nor a substitute for medical or other professional
advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar
with your unique circumstances. Always seek the advice of your physician
or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical
condition and before starting any new treatment.