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Depression: Information for You and Your Teen 

September 25, 2015  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

Depression is a major issue for teens and preteens nationally and locally. According to the National Institute of Mental Health more than 10 percent of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18 with girls being more likely than boys to experience depression.  And, the World Health Organization notes that depression is the leading cause of disability among Americans age 15 to 44.

Not unlike other areas in the country, Massachusetts, including Cape Cod, has a significant population of teens and young adults who suffer from depression, which often is related to underage drinking and drug use.

The Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey

This anonymous written self report survey of youth in public high schools in the state, indicated that in 2013 (the last year for which information is available): 

  • 22% of high school students and 16% of middle school students reported feeling so sad or hopeless daily for at least two weeks during the previous year that they discontinued their usual activities.
  • 42% of high school students and 36% of middle school students reported that in the previous 12 months they had felt the need to talk to an adult regarding their feelings and/or current issues in their lives.
  • Among high school students: 12% seriously considered suicide during the past year; 11% made a suicide plan; 6% reported attempting suicide; and, 2% reported a suicide attempt that resulted in injury that needed medical attention.
  • Among middle school students: 4% reported having attempted suicide one or more times in the past year; 8% seriously considered suicide; and, 1% of students had a suicide attempt that resulted in injury.

Recognizing Depression

Many teens may periodically be sullen or moody, but the following symptoms, especially if they last for more than two weeks, may indicate that your child is depressed:

  • a feeling of being down in the dumps or really sad for no reason
  • a lack of energy, feeling unable to do the simplest task
  • an inability to enjoy the things that used to bring pleasure
  • a lack of desire to be with friends or family members
  • feelings of irritability, anger, or anxiety
  • an inability to concentrate that may interfere with school
  • difficulty coping with problems and daily activities
  • a marked weight gain, loss or failure to gain weight as expected; and, too little or too much interest in eating
  • a significant change in sleep habits, such as trouble falling asleep or getting up
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • aches and pains even though nothing is physically wrong
  • threats of self-harm or harm to others
  • increased use of alcohol and drugs
  • a lack of caring about what happens in the future
  • thoughts about death or suicide

If you are concerned that your child is suffering from depression your first step should be to speak with your child’s pediatrician or family physician. Discussing your concerns with a school guidance counselor or school nurse may also be helpful and give you a better understanding of how your child is handling school situations. Your child’s pediatrician or school personnel may refer your child for counseling.

Also, there are excellent local resources that can provide you and your teen with assistance. The Behavioral Health portal sponsored by the Barnstable County Department of Human Services is an excellent resource for individuals, families, and agencies with behavioral health questions or concerns. It provides information about behavioral health services in our region, including a robust Service Directory that includes resources for children and adolescents. 

Hotlines for You and Your Teen

  • Emergency Services Program: Emergency services are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for people experiencing a mental health or substance use disorder crisis. 877.382.1609 
  • Massachusetts Department of Mental Health: Crisis Intervention Line 800.322.1356
  • Depression Hotline (Samaritans): If you are feeling lonely, depressed or suicidal, call the Samaritans Hotline to talk to someone about how you are feeling. 508.548.8900 

And, for immediate help and counseling call one of the appropriate national hotlines below:

  • Boys/Girls Crisis Hotline  800.448.3000      
  • Child Abuse Hotline  800.422.4453
  • Drug/Alcohol National Helpline 800.662.4357
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800.273.8255
  • National Runaway Safeline 800.786.2929

Online Resources for You and Your Teen

There is a a lot of information online about teen depression. The following resources provide information that is up-to-date, reliable, and based on the latest scientific evidence.

Teenager’s Guide to Depression from HelpGuide.org. A comprehensive resource for teenagers that includes tips and tools for helping yourself or a friend. The site includes sections on coping with suicidal thoughts, helping a depressed friend, and access to help.

Parent’s Guide to Teen Depression from HelpGuide.org. Learn the signs of depression in teens and how you can help. Information includes signs, symptoms, and effects of teen depression; suicide warning signs; tips for talking to a depressed teen; getting treatment; and, taking care of your whole family when one child is depressed.  

Understanding Depression from KidsHealth.org. An excellent article that gives a clear explanation of depression and how to help your teen. The site also provides access to depression information for school aged children and teens in language appropriate to their age.

Teen Mental Health from MedlinePlus.gov. Provides access to a wealth of information about adolescent mental health issues. All sites and information recommended by Medline are credible and accurate.

Teen Depression from the Mayo Clinic. An in-depth look at adolescent depression including answers from Mayo Clinic mental health experts and a depression blog.

Depression Resource Center from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Access to in-depth information about teenage depression including FAQs, articles, video clips, and getting help.

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