By Bob Condor

Teen DepressionIt is probably least surprising to American teens themselves: About 13 percent of all girls 12 to 17 say they have suffered a significant bout of depression in the last year. About 5 percent of all teen boys report the same, adding up to 8 percent overall or more than two million teens.

That’s a lot of kids.

Another trend: The depression rate rise with age. The 17-year-old is more vulnerable than the middle-schooler.

The research, published May 13, is based on a national survey of 67,000 teens conducted by the federal government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). A significant bout of depression was defined as lasting two weeks or longer, including depressed mood or loss of interest/pleasure, plus other symptoms such as sleep troubles, lack of energy, loss of concentration and compromised self-esteem.

One of the government’s reasons for releasing such data is to catch depression episodes at early stages among teenagers. It’s easy and more effective to treat depression in the first weeks of symptoms, says Terry Cline, an official with SAMSHA. Cline urged all parents—or loved ones, friends, fellow students—to respond to teen’s potential depression “with the same urgency as any other medical condtion.”

Great point here: We tend to classify someone’s moodiness or, say, total loss of interest in formerly pleasurable things such as baking cookies or even walking the mall, as non-medical. If that same person was falling down repeatedly from vertigo or running a high fever, we would be respond. But mental health still carries a stigma, circa 2008 or not.

Rather than simply shake our heads over teen depression statistics, we can reinforce our awareness and willingness to reach out. Here are some differences between teen depression and adult depression: When depressed, teens tend to be more irritable than sad (adults are more sad). Depressed develop more unexplained headaches or stomachaches than depressed adults. Teens will be more sensitive to criticism, especially overahievers. And while the depressed adult withdraws from most everyone, teens do it more selectively by retaining some friendships or sometimes switching to a different crowd.

One of the more compelling facts about depression is that researchers consider both the most overmedicated (too many people taking antidepressants) and underdiagnosed (people going untreated) of all diseases. This general observation holds true for teens, too.

There is considerable opposition to prescribing antidepressant for teens, most impressively from scientists who study the developing brain and suggest it is not possible to gauge just how much growth stunting or other damage medications might be doing. Amir Raz, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Montreal, is a pioneering researcher not afraid to speak out against antidepressants used for children and teens: “The human brain is developing exponentially when we are very young. Exposure to antidepressants may affect or influence the wiring of the brain, especially when it comes to certain elements that have to do with stress, emotion and regulation of these.” For more from Raz and an informative article on the subject, check out the June 2007 issue of Scientific American (http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=kids-on-meds-trouble-ahead).

Here are some ways we can reach out to a depressed teen: Be clear you love the teen unconditionally. Hold back from asking too many questions to avoid “crowding” the teen. Don’t give up if the teen shuts you out at first. Be respectful, emphasize your willingless to listen without judgment, hang in there. Don’t try talking the teen out of depressive feelings or symptoms. Depression is real and a condition that demands attention.

Offer support

Let depressed teenagers know that you’re there for them, fully and unconditionally. Hold back from asking a lot of questions (teenagers don’t like to feel patronized or crowded), but make it clear that you’re ready and willing to provide whatever support they need.

Be gentle but persistent

Don’t give up if your adolescent shuts you out at first. Talking about depression can be very tough for teens. Be respectful of your child’s comfort level while still emphasizing your concern and willingness to listen.

Listen without lecturing

Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your teenager begins to talk. The important thing is that your child is communicating. Avoid offering unsolicited advice or ultimatums as well.

Validate feelings

Don’t try to talk teens out of their depression, even if their feelings or concerns appear silly or irrational to you. Simply acknowledge the pain and sadness they are feeling. If you don’t, they will feel like you don’t take their emotions seriously.

Learn more about depression at: TheJoyEquation.com


“Bob Condor is the Daily Health Blogger for Barton Publishing. He is also the Living Well columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He covers natural health and quality of life issues and writes regularly for national magazines, including Life, Esquire, Parade, Self, and Outside. He is a former syndicated health columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of six books, including “The Good Mood Diet” and “Your Prostate Cancer Survivors’ Guide.” He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two 11-year-old kids.”

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