Teen Depression: How to Treat Depression as an Adolescent

Many teens and adults have to deal with depression at some point in their life. While there are millions of people that report and seek treatment for depression, one of the most common mental health issues in the United States, many don’t seek the treatment that can help them to feel better. 

Depression is also the most common cause of disability among adults. But teens and adolescents tend to experience depression at even higher rates than adults. Since people go through many changes during their teenage years, it can be challenging to identify depression in adolescents. But the fact that teen years are an important stage in development makes it all the more essential that depressed teens can get the help they need. 

How can depression be identified and treated in teens and adolescents? Learn more about teen depression and how it can be treated. 

Teen Depression Statistics

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is just one of many types of mood disorders that involve depression, and it affects 16.1 million adults in the United States each year. Adolescents experience major depression at slightly higher rates than the general population. About  3.2 million people between the ages of 12 and 17 experienced a major depressive episode in 2017, which accounts for 13.3% of the population in this age group. Major depression is more common among females, especially in adolescents. Around 20% of girls and 6.8% of boys experience depression in this age group. 

Signs of Depression in a Teen

depressed teen

Adults and children can express mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, in different ways. For instance, when an adult experiences a traumatic event, they may become withdrawn and isolated. When a child experiences trauma, they may be clingy, not wanting to leave their parent’s side. Adults are often better at expressing what they feel, while children may have trouble expressing and regulating their emotions when depressed. Teens fall in between these two categories. They may have more tools to express their emotions, but they may also have trouble regulating them or identifying depression in themselves. 

It may also be difficult to detect depression in teens because people in that stage of life go through so many changes. It’s easy to write off negative feelings as a normal part of dealing with changes like puberty, moving from middle to high school, taking big exams, standardized testing, and looking for college or career opportunities for the future. However, depression can make these challenges and responsibilities more stressful, and it can take some of the enjoyment out of your life. If left unaddressed, it can become a long-term problem.

Identifying depression in yourself or a teenage loved one can be a challenge, but there are some telltale signs and symptoms. Here are some signs of depression in teens and adolescents:

Depressed Mood

This is one of the two quintessential signs of depression. While there are several depression symptoms listed in the DSM, most people will experience a depressed mood. You may feel sad, generally unhappy, or worried. Adolescents often feel irritable or cranky in a way that makes them lash out. This can cause feelings of guilt which worsens their mood. Many teens are stereotyped as moody or short-tempered, so when depression manifests as irritability, the people around you may assume it’s a normal part of being a teen. You may start to see yourself as short-tempered and like it’s part of your identity. But it may be a symptom of a very treatable mental health problem that’s interfering with your life. 

Loss of Interest in Activities

This is the second important sign of depression. For you to be diagnosed as having a major depressive episode, you need to experience this symptom or a depressed mood, or both. A teen’s interests in different things may wax and wane. But depression causes a loss of interest in almost everything. Teens may express this by dropping out of several extracurriculars all of a sudden. They may show a reluctance to participate in things they used to enjoy, or they may even forgo low-effort activities like watching their favorite TV show. If a teen is no longer interested in ballet dancing, they may not be depressed. If they’re no longer interested in any of their regular activities, they may be depressed.

Social Isolation

Teens, like adults, may express their depression with the feeling that they just want to be alone. As depression persists, this may cause you to feel isolated from your friends and loved ones. Isolation is a common symptom of many mental health issues, but it’s also one of the biggest enemies of mental health. When you’ve been isolated for a while, you may feel like coming out to socialize, which will seem out of character for you. You may have to act as you normally have to avoid feeling awkward or embarrassed. However, making connections with others is one of the best ways to fight depression. Talking to a trusted loved one or therapist can help you find ways to avoid isolation.

Physical Signs and Symptoms

Even though depression is a psychological issue, it can cause some physical symptoms as well. Fatigue is one of the most common physical symptoms of depression. You may feel tired all the time and like you don’t have the energy to complete normal tasks throughout the day. You may also have trouble getting to sleep, which causes you to feel tired the next day. In some cases, you may sleep more than usual but still feel tired. Low energy and sleep problems can contribute to a mental fog throughout the day. This can make you feel like you can’t focus or interact with people in a meaningful way. 

Depression can sometimes cause physical aches and pains, and low energy can cause you to enter the cycle of pain. The cycle of pain is a problem in people who experience pain that’s caused by low activity. Getting up and exercising can help, but when you feel aches and pains and low energy, exercise is the last thing on your mind. However, breaking the cycle and moving can sometimes help alleviate pain and improve your mood. 

Thoughts of Death

As the depression gets worse, you may start thinking about death more often. According to the DSM, this is different from the fear of death that may bother some people, especially people with phobias and anxiety disorders. Depression can cause you to think about death naturally or even positively. As depression worsens, you may experience what’s called suicidal ideation, which is thinking about your death and how you might make it happen. 

If you start to experience these kinds of suicidal thoughts or ideations, it’s a sure sign that it’s time to seek treatment. It’s important to realize that, while the feelings of despair or hopelessness you experience may feel like they will last forever, depression can be treated, and you can feel better. Seeking treatment can be the first step to feeling better and learning to cope with depression in a way that allows you to live your life.

How Is Depression Treated in Teens?

Treating depression in teens is important in helping them avoid long-term issues in their mental health. Several treatment options can be effective in treating teens and young adults. However, treatment depends on the severity of your depression and your specific needs. The first step when seeking treatment is to speak to a doctor or a clinical professional. 

Getting a mental health diagnosis may require a psychological evaluation, but you should also seek a physical exam and lab tests. Testing for physical problems like vitamin deficiencies can help rule out other things that can be contributing to your low mood. A psychological evaluation can help determine if you have a mood disorder and which one you’re most likely dealing with. 

In many cases, a combination of medications and psychotherapy is the most effective way to address a depressive disorder. 

What Is Psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy is an approach to therapy that involves talking to a therapist, and it can be used to treat a wide range of mental health issues. Psychotherapy can be as simple as allowing you to talk about the things that are frustrating you in a way that allows you to work through them. However, you may also go through psychotherapeutic approaches that are designed to help you identify issues, learn more about yourself, and discover new ways to cope with challenges. 

Behavioral therapies are common forms of psychotherapy. Behavioral therapy is a broad category of therapy options that are used to address the way thoughts and coping skills can influence your behavior. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a specific type of therapy that involves identifying triggers, learning coping skills, increasing self-efficacy, and making a plan to deal with challenges in the future. 

What Medications Are Used to Treat Teen Depression?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two medications to treat teens with depression. One is called fluoxetine and sold under the brand name Prozac. The other is escitalopram, sold under the brand name Lexapro. It’s important to note that there is no one pill that will act as a silver bullet for depression. It takes time to find the right medication and dosage for your needs. It’s important to talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of using antidepressant medication.  

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