"You're not depressed, you're just going through some changes" is something that tends to come up a lot with young people - as if depression discriminates by age. Obviously, during puberty a lot of hormonal imbalances are going on which can lead to a variety of changes in moods and appearance. Yet, this doesn't mean that if somebody comes to you seeking support, you should disregard their feelings and put it all down to the fact that their body is changing. Teenagers have depression. Young children have depression. Adults have depression. The elderly have depression. Depression can affect everybody, regardless of age, gender or race so consider this before excusing depression in young people as 'just hormones.'
With 20% of teenagers experiencing depression before they reach adulthood, it is becoming more important to be able to tell the difference between typical teenage behaviour and common mental health conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression. Teenagers may show signs of depression differently in comparison to adults. Many 'rebellious' and unhealthy behaviours are actually a sign of depression in young people. As well as the typical symptoms of depression (such as overeating/undereating, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, thoughts of suicide or self harm) there are also some signs to look out for which seem to be more common in younger people. These include irritability and angry outbursts, extreme sensitivity to criticism and withdrawal from some people however maintaining some close friends.
Leaving teenage depression untreated can lead to numerous negative impacts on everyday life, including (but not limited to) problems at school, substance abuse, low self-esteem, eating disorders, internet addiction, self-injury, reckless behavior such as unprotected sex, violence, self harm and suicide. Though many teens may be likely to experiment with different substances, 30% of teenagers with depression also develop a drug/alcohol addiction. Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in young people. Less than a third of teenagers and young people with depression get help so it is extremely important to recognise the signs in yourself, your friends and others.
A lot of the general signs of depression can be simply excused as 'teenage mood swings' to most onlookers. Even some professionals miss the correct diagnosis of depression due to the impulsive, reckless behaviour most young people experience growing up. Even if it starts from just a 'bad mood', this can quite easily slip into clinical depression. One major sign to look out for is loss of interest in previous passions and a sense of hopelessness - that the future is pointless or life is not worth living - are signs that unhappiness has slipped beyond typical angst. Other more general signs of depression include:
- Difficulty concentrating, poor memory and trouble making decisions
- Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
- Feeling hopeless and pessimistic
- Irritability and restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed (including sex)
- Feeling low
- Thoughts of suicide
- Physical symptoms
- Lack of energy. Moving and speaking slower than usual
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Changes in appetite, lack of appetite or overeating
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems
- Feeling overly tired
If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or your friend/family member, lasting longer than two weeks, speak to them about what they are going through or suggest they visit their GP as soon as possible. Life with depression is not easy and recovery can be a long, hard road. Never judge your friend or loved one and how they cope with their depression. If you have not been there, you cannot comprehend the intensity of the experience.
Remember: if your child or friend confides in you about their feelings, listen. Do not assume that it all comes down to teenage angst when depression in young people is well and truly on the rise.