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Depression: FAQs for Your Teen

December 20, 2013  |  Falmouth Enterprise

By: Dr. Michael Bihari

(This information is from the National Institute of Mental Health)

Depression is not uncommon during adolescence, a time of great personal change. You may be facing changes in where you go to school, your friends, your after-school activities, as well as in relationships with your family members. You may have different feelings about the type of person you want to be, your future plans, and may be making decisions for the first time in your life.

Many students don’t know where to go for mental health treatment or believe that treatment won’t help. Others don’t get help because they think depression symptoms are just part of the typical stresses of school or being a teen. Some students worry what other people will think if they seek mental health care. 

The following FAQs address some common questions about depression and how it can affect teens.

What is depression?

Depression is a common but serious mental illness typically marked by sad or anxious feelings. Most teens and young adults occasionally feel sad or anxious, but these emotions usually pass quickly—within a couple of days. Untreated depression lasts for a long time and can interfere with your day-to-day activities.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Different people experience different symptoms of depression. If you are depressed, you may feel one or more of the following: anxious, empty, hopeless, guilty, worthless, helpless, irritable, or restless. You may also experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
  • Lack of energy
  • Problems concentrating, remembering information, or making decisions
  • Problems falling sleep, staying asleep, or sleeping too much
  • Loss of appetite or eating too much
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts
  • Aches, pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not go away.

Depression in teens often occurs with other disorders such as anxiety, disruptive behavior, eating disorders, or substance abuse. It can also lead to increased risk for suicide.

What causes depression?

Depression does not have a single cause. Several factors can lead to depression. Some people carry genes that increase their risk of depression. But not all people with depression have these genes, and not all people with these genes have depression. Environment—your surroundings and life experiences—also affects your risk for depression. Any stressful situation may trigger depression.

How can I find out if I have depression?

The first step is to talk with your parents or a trusted adult who can help you make an appointment to speak with a doctor or counselor. Your family doctor or school counselor may also be able to help you find appropriate care. The doctor or counselor can do an exam to help determine if you have depression or if you have another health or mental health problem. Some medical conditions or medications can produce symptoms similar to depression. The doctor or counselor will ask you about:

  • Your symptoms
  • Your history of depression
  • Your family’s history of depression
  • Your medical history
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Any thoughts you may have of death or suicide.

How is depression treated?

A number of very effective treatments for depression are available. The most common treatments are antidepressants and psychotherapy. A combination of medication and psychotherapy may be the most effective treatment option.

What are antidepressants?

Antidepressants work on brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, especially serotonin and norepinephrine. Other antidepressants work on the neurotransmitter dopamine. Scientists have found that these particular chemicals are involved in regulating mood, but they are unsure of the exact ways that they work. But, they do work!

If a doctor prescribes an antidepressant, how long will I have to take it?

You will need to take regular doses of antidepressants for 4 to 6 weeks before you feel the full effect of these medicines. Some people need to take antidepressants for a short time. If your depression is long lasting or comes back again and again, you may need to take antidepressants longer.

What is psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy involves talking with a mental health care professional to treat a mental illness. Types of psychotherapy that have been shown to be effective in treating depression include:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which helps people change negative styles of thinking and behavior that may contribute to depression
  • Interpersonal therapy, which helps people understand and work through troubled personal relationships that may cause or worsen depression.

Depending on the type and severity of your depression, a mental health professional may recommend short-term therapy, lasting several months, or longer-term therapy.

Q. How can I help myself if I am depressed?

A. If you have depression, you may feel exhausted, helpless, and hopeless. But it is important to realize that these feelings are part of the depression and do not reflect your real circumstances. Treatment can help you feel better. To help yourself feel better:

  • Give treatment a chance—attend sessions and follow your doctor’s or therapist’s advice; expect your mood to improve gradually with treatment 
  • Take medications as prescribed by your doctor 
  • Engage in physical activity or exercise and participate in activities that you used to enjoy
  • Spend time with your friends and family

If you are thinking about harming yourself or having thoughts of suicide seek help right away. 

  • Call 911 or go to the hospital emergency room to get immediate help, or ask a friend or family member to help you do these things.
  • Call your doctor or mental health care provider.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s toll-free, 24-hour hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to talk to a trained counselor.

If you are in crisis, make sure you are not left alone.

Depression Resources

  • 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. 


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