When we talk about depression, we often think of it as an adult diagnosis. We may know other adults who struggle with depression, but it can be difficult to imagine that teens and young adults can have depression as well. The risk for depression can begin in childhood or the early teens, however, and increases steadily through the mid-20s. Around 11 percent of young people will have experienced an episode of depression by the end of their teenage years. Teen depression goes beyond moodiness. It’s a serious health problem that impacts every aspect of a teen’s life.
Teen depression is a serious mental health problem that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities. It affects how your teenager thinks, feels and behaves, and it can cause emotional, functional and physical problems. Although depression can occur at any time in life, symptoms may be different between teens and adults.
Symptoms of Depression
When adults are struggling with depression, they are able to seek out help on their own. Teenagers on the other hand have to rely on their parents, teachers, or other adults in their lives to recognize their suffering. Many teens may not even have the words to express that they are dealing with depression. They may feel irritable or angry but cannot connect those feelings to depression. This is why it is crucial for parents to be connected to their teens and be aware of the signs and symptoms of depression. These symptoms may include:
- Sadness or hopelessness. You may find that your teen seems overly sensitive and bursts into tears frequently.
- Irritability, anger, or hostility. When your teen is feeling angry, problems may quickly escalate into outbursts.
- Withdrawal from friends and family. Once social teens may begin to self isolate. You may find that they are choosing to stay home in situations where they used to prefer to go out with friends.
- Loss of interest in activities. If you find your teen is quitting clubs or activities that they used to love, this may be a warning sign that something deeper is going on.
- Poor school performance. When the feelings of depression become overwhelming teens may begin skipping school or stop doing their homework.
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits. This could include insomnia, oversleeping, binge eating, and restrictive eating habits.
- Restlessness and agitation. You may find your teen pacing, fidgeting, or showing other signs of physical discomfort or pent up energy.
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt. Your teen may begin expressing that they feel that they are worthless directly, or it may come out through sarcasm or “joking”. Either way it is important to pay attention to those warning signs of negative self esteem.
- Lack of enthusiasm and motivation. Teens who were once excited about personal goals may no longer find fulfillment or personal pride in working towards those goals.
- Fatigue or lack of energy. Spending time relaxing is perfectly normal, but if your teen is spending most of their time on the couch or in their bed it has become a problem.
- Difficulty concentrating. Your teen may seem easily distracted or you may find yourself repeating directions over and over again.
- Unexplained aches and pains. Emotional distress can sometimes manifest in physical symptoms. Expressing emotional pain may be more difficult than talking about a headache or stomach ache for your teen.
- Thoughts of death or suicide. Any talk of self harm, death, or suicide should be taken as a serious threat and addressed immediately.
What Causes Depression?
It’s not known exactly what causes depression, but a variety of issues may be involved. One factor may be brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that carry signals to other parts of the brain and body. When these chemicals are abnormal or impaired, the function of nerve receptors and nerve systems changes, leading to depression. In teens, hormone changes can also trigger depression, as well as early childhood trauma and inherited traits. Depression is more common in people who have blood relatives who also have the condition.
The teenage years are also a time when young adults are experiencing new levels of stress. School is becoming more challenging. Peer relationships are changing. And as discussed above, their brain chemistry and hormones are changing as well. For teens who are prone to depressive symptoms, this creates a “perfect storm” for triggering depression.
Helping Your Teen with Depression
Once you have identified that your teen is experiencing symptoms of depression, it is time to reach out for professional help. A clinical professional can provide a screening that can diagnose if your teen is depressed. Receiving a diagnosis is the first step to deciding on a treatment plan.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is a term for treatment techniques that can help teens identify and manage troubling emotions, thoughts, and behavior. Psychotherapy can take place in a one-on-one meeting with your teen and a licensed mental health professional. You and your teen can also choose to be a part of a group guided by a mental health professional.
If your teen’s doctor thinks they need medicine to treat their depression, he or she might prescribe an antidepressant. When your teen is taking an antidepressant, it is important to carefully follow their doctor’s directions for taking their medicine. The medication could take up to six weeks to work and they should not stop taking it without the help of a doctor. When it is time to stop the medication, their doctor will help them slowly and safely decrease the dose so that their body can adjust. If they stop taking the medication too soon, their depression symptoms may return. Another reason to stop medication gradually is that stopping suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms like anxiety and irritability.
Healthy living skills when paired with therapy or medication may also help manage depression. Things like staying active and exercising, keeping a regular sleep schedule, and spending time with friends and family can all have a positive effect. Learning stress management and coping skills can help make depressive episodes more manageable.
Residential Treatment for Depression
Another option for treatment is a residential treatment program that specializes in mental health issues and depression. A successful residential treatment program combines clinical practices such as individual therapy, group therapy, adventure therapy, and a holistic approach.
There are two stages of recovery for teens with depression. The first stage involves developing healthier habits, like stopping using negative coping behaviors, eating healthy meals, sleeping an appropriate amount, exercising, and engaging in healthy activities of all kinds. These lifestyle factors can help teens improve their mood and regulate their emotions so that they are more prepared to cope with life’s challenges. Most treatment centers for depression focus on helping teens reach the first stage of recovery and provide a map for how to apply these skills in other areas of their lives.
The second stage of recovery from depression involves self-realization and empowerment, which helps teens move beyond depression, not just to cope with these feelings when they arise. By focusing on helping teens reach this second stage, Red Mountain Colorado goes beyond traditional treatment methods for depression. Participating in adventure activities, engaging in community service, achieving academic success, and other positive experiences help our students to overcome depression in a very powerful way.
At Red Mountain Colorado, we use yoga, meditation and mindfulness to teach teens to use healthy coping skills to manage depression symptoms. We believe that experiential and holistic therapy methods can be very effective in treating emotional and behavioral mental health issues. Many teens struggle to understand the body-mind connection. Instead, they may become more easily overwhelmed by emotions or focus on uncomfortable physical sensations without connecting it to situations around them. Or, they may focus on the concrete details of stressful life events they’ve experienced without considering the impact it’s had on them personally. Meditation and mindfulness are strategies used to help struggling teens become more aware of their emotions, gain insight into their unhealthy coping mechanisms, and learn to live in the present while healing from their past. Red Mountain Colorado provides our students with the tools to truly launch into happy, healthy, productive lives.
Red Mountain Colorado Can Help
Red Mountain Colorado was founded to help struggling teens work through behavioral and emotional challenges. We specialize in the treatment of trauma-related mental health challenges. Throughout programming, we empower teens to build healthy coping skills and habits that they can use to work through the challenges they face.
When a teen struggles with emotional and behavioral issues like depression or anxiety and has at least one other mental health condition present, we call this a dual diagnosis disorder (also known as a co-occurring condition). Our program is structured to treat issues like trauma and depression as well as dual diagnosis disorders. When your teen arrives at our treatment facility, our staff will assess if there are any underlying mental health symptoms. With these learnings, we take an integrated approach to create a path to psychosocial wellness. For more information please call (970) 316-7594.