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Last Updated on December 12, 2021 by Randy Withers, LCMHC
Growing up is never easy–especially during your teenage years. But what happens to the teens who are also battling depression?
To help depressed teens navigate their world and find healing, it’s important for parents to understand what their teen may be going through before taking action.
How Common Is Teen Depression?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH), depression is a severe mood disorder that negatively interferes with one’s daily life patterns.
- Recurring sadness or irritability
- A loss of interest in once-enjoyed activities or hobbies
- Sudden changes in weight or appetite
- Having trouble relaxing due to feelings of restlessness
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Loss of concentration and difficulty making decisions
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
To be classified as depression, these symptoms must also last a minimum of two weeks. However, if untreated, it can continue for months or even years.
But just how common is teen depression? A 2017 study by Pew Research found 13 percent of adolescents in the United States between 12 and 17 experienced a recent depressive episode. This adds up to a shocking 3.2 million U.S. teens suffering from the disorder.
7 Myths About Teen Depression
To help teens struggling with depression, it’s important to know what is true and what is not when it comes to the disorder. Let’s talk about how to recognize some of the most common myths about teen depression and why they are false.
Myth 1: “Everybody Gets Sad Sometimes! It’s Completely Normal.”
Yes, everybody gets sad sometimes. It’s part of being human. But, there’s a big difference between a teen who is sad versus one battling clinical depression.
Depression doesn’t last for a day or two. Instead, it takes over their life by pulling them into severe low moods for weeks, months or years. For teen boys, they tend to act moody or angry, while girls are more prone to emotional outbursts and dysregulation.
Remember, anything that repeatedly disrupts a teen’s daily lifestyle is not normal. Knowing this, it is essential that they receive the help they need to heal from their depression.
Unfortunately, if they are unable to learn how to cope with the illness, it can have detrimental effects on their adolescent development. Some risks for untreated depression in teens include:
- Higher risk for developing substance use disorder
- Problems in school, low grades or attendance
- Social isolation
- Making risky, dangerous or self-harming choices
Myth 2: “She Has A Good Life, There Is No Reason For Her To Be Depressed.”
For those who have never experienced depression, this mentality makes sense. But in reality, depression can affect anyone–no matter what their life may look like on the outside.
The American Psychological Association (APA) discovered teens from wealthy families are actually at a higher risk for depression than other economic classes due to heavy pressure to succeed and to appear “perfect” in the eyes of others and within their own family.
However, there are many factors that explain why a teen might be experiencing depression. For some, an imbalance of hormones or a family history of the disorder can play a significant role. For other teens, the stressor can be related to their circumstances or a past traumatic event never properly dealt with.
Just remember, you never know what deeper issues a teen might be dealing with until you take the time to investigate.
Myth 3: “Teen Depression Affects Boys And Girls The Same Way.”
While it’s true that depression affects both sexes, studies have found that depression actually tends to affect girls more than boys during adolescence. To give a clearer picture, Pew Research discovered an alarming statistic that one-in-five teenage girls suffer from the disorder.
But why are girls more at risk?
Unfortunately, the reason for this is not fully known, but experts have determined it could be linked to the way girls respond emotionally to stressful experiences or situations. That said, they are also known to have twice as many relational stressors compared to teenage boys.
Boys, however, are known to act more aggressively than girls while experiencing depression. Studies have proven that teen boys tend to be more impulsive and are much more likely to commit suicide than girls suffering from the disorder.
However, the ADAA shows that more than two-thirds of teenage antidepressant users are girls. This means girls receive treatment more often than boys.
Knowing this, it’s important to pay close attention to the behavior of both boys and girls during this critical developmental stage to ensure that both sexes get the help they need.
Myth 4: “He’s Just Being Lazy.”
Yes, teens with depression can appear lazy–but it doesn’t mean they are. For those suffering from depression, normal activities like getting out of bed can become a formidable and daunting challenge.
Why? Well, for one thing, depression can be exhausting. Not only can it cause problems sleeping, but it is also an energy-draining disorder that often leads to a severe lack of motivation.
Instead of being quick to assume a teen is just being lazy, consider taking some time to understand why they might be acting the way they are.
Myth 5: “Depression Is Easy To Spot.”
Many people think depression always looks like sadness and severe mood changes. This is not true though, and there’s no one “right way” to be depressed.
Instead, symptoms of teen depression can vary greatly depending on the individual and their circumstances. Common symptoms of depression can be overlooked based on insufficient knowledge or insufficient awareness from others.
Things like changes in appetite, irritability, isolation, poor grades in school or moodiness can sometimes be considered “normal” teen behavior. However, studies have shown many teens actually hide or “mask” their symptoms to draw attention away from themselves or to prevent loved ones from worrying.
To avoid missing these signs, being open and communicative with teens is crucial.
Myth 6: “She’s Just Looking For Attention. She Needs To Get Over It–It’s Not A Real Thing.”
It is a real thing.
If a teen is brave enough to try and reach out for help, the most detrimental thing you can do is cause her to feel as if her own feelings are not valid. Instead of being critical or dismissive about the issue, try listening to them.
Remember, depression is not something that people can simply “snap out of.” According to Healthline, its origins are actually social, biological and psychological. Unlike just having “the blues,” teen depression requires treatment.
For many teens, meeting with a mental health professional is extremely beneficial toward their healing. Other common treatment options include: group therapy, medication, and online counseling, which many teens prefer, as they can use their smartphones to do it.
Myth 7: “There’s Nothing I Can Do To Help.”
There is always something you can do. Although you should never try to “fix” a teen, there is plenty you can do to help a teen with depression not feel so alone.
First, let them know that you are listening. Create a non-judgmental environment and be there for them as they talk through their feelings.
Another way to help is by providing the teen with mental health resources and supporting them through professional treatment. By doing this, the lines of communication will start to open up, and healing can finally begin.
Tips For Parents
Knowing if your teen suffers from depression can sometimes be tricky. But, by being more aware of what depression looks like and how to handle it, your teen will reap the benefits.
Below are some points to remember when dealing with your depressed teen:
- Watch for the signs–there’s more than you’d expect.
- Practice active listening.
- Take them (your teen) seriously.
- Be supportive.
- Seek professional help.
If you or a teen you know may be suffering from depression, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. There are plenty of in-person and online therapy programs that specialize in treating teen depression.
By using the right resources and finding a program that works for you, healing is more than possible.
To help get you started, click here for a list of possible treatment centers near you. Or, have your teen take this free depression quiz:
- Early Serious Mental Illness Treatment Locator – SAMHSA.gov
- Teen depression – Symptoms and causes
- HEARD Alliance
- Teens and Depression: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Risks
- 9 Depression Myths
- What Is Smiling Depression?
- Signs Of Depression In Teens
- Debunking Myths of Teen Depression
- Girls and Teens
- 11 Myths and Misconceptions of Teen Depression
- Depression is increasing among US teens
- Speaking of Psychology: The mental price of affluence
- Substance use disorder
- Clinical Depression: Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Coping
- Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders (samhsa.gov)
- National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)
- Major Depressive Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
- NIMH » Depression