Adolescent Depression - Diagnosis and Treatment

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Adolescent Depression

As we get older our ability to deal with problems and setbacks evolves. Sometime around age 25 our brains fully develop. And even with that evolved maturity, we adults can still buckle under the weight of depression. And at times depression can feel inescapable.

It’s clear to see exactly how life-affecting depression can be to the average teenager. Mixed in with peer pressure, hormones, and a sheer uncertainty as to how to deal with the world, adolescent depression can often go misdiagnosed and undertreated.

We’re going to break down the diagnosis and treatment of adolescent depression, on a medical level.

The Facts About Depression in Adolescence

According to adolescent depression statistics, teen depression is on the rise globally. To understand the answers and the questions about teen depression it’s important to note a few basics.

The Definition of Adolescence

Adolescence also referred to as the developmental years, is the transitional period from child to adult. There’s no consensus among doctors as to what exact age it begins and ends. Adolescence changes the brain psychologically and allows for deeper more rationalized thinking. Environmental, family, and educational experiences that happen during adolescence directly shape the personality, specifically the emotional responses of an individual for the rest of their life.

What is Depression?

Depression is a medical term used to describe a severe and consistent abundance of negative thoughts and feelings. Teen depression can result in severed emotional bonds, isolation, and suicide. It’s important to remember that not only are the effects of depression compounded in adolescence but that the symptoms of depression can go unnoticed or confused for normal teenage behavior.

Adolescent Depression Statistics

In 2020, the CDC conducted a study on adolescent depression. We’ve compiled a few facts.1

1.9 Million Adolescents are Affected by Depression

The highest rates of depression are among Hispanics, African-Americans, and Caucasians, in that order. The symptoms of depression remain the same throughout the three.

The Chance of Developing Teen Depression Increases in Poverty

Studies show that poverty and other traumatic factors are incubators for depression. The signs of depression also have a higher chance of going unnoticed in poverty and untreated due to limited resources.

These Numbers are Going Up

Adolescent depression increased from 5.4 to 8.4% in 9 years.

What is Teen Depression?

Teen depression and adolescent depression are often used interchangeably. But adolescence can start before the teenage years. It’s important not to overlook what you think may be depression just because it doesn’t fit perfectly into the idea of teenage depression.

20-Percent-of-Teen-Depression-Goes-Untreated

The Definition of a Teenager

The term teenager pertains to an adolescent between the ages of 13-19.

How Many Teens Have Depression?

According to the CDC, over 6% of teenagers aged 13-17 are diagnosed with teen depression. It’s worth noting that globally almost 20% of adolescent depression goes untreated.

How to Spot Depression in an Adolescent

Adolescent depression can present in several ways that are often influenced by home life and societal norms but here are some of the most common symptoms of depression.

Lack of Concentration

Cortisol, the stress hormone, comes into play here. The amount of cortisol that major depression disorder creates is enough to break down the brain's ability to think and reason. Cortisol does this by interrupting the synapses in your brain. The result of this effects school performance, poor memory, and social awkwardness.

Lack of Self Worth

An inability to see the value in one’s life is a major sign of depression. And often stems from self-deprecating thought. It results in self-harm like cutting or burning oneself, suicide, or putting oneself in a number of dangerous situations including drug and alcohol abuse.

Emotional Distance

Emotional distance is when an adolescent shuts themselves off from family and friends. This can result in quietness, general timidity, and isolation. Of all the symptoms of depression, this one can be mistaken for general social introversion.

Loss of Energy

Loss of energy is one of the most common symptoms of depression. General tiredness occurs due to the depletion of serotonin, the brain chemical that regulates energy levels. The result is chronic sleeping, lack of appetite, and weight gain.

Why Exactly are Adolescents Depressed?

Depression can be caused by several factors including genetics, and without professional help or testing, there’s no way to figure out the cause of an individual’s depression. However, there are a few leading theories:

Social Media Addiction

Social media addiction occurs when a person spends an ever-increasing amount of time on social media.2  Science shows that social media interactions such as likes, comments, and shares cause dopamine, the happy chemical, to be released in the brain. Eventually, the brain reshapes itself in search of these dopamine surges. Studies also show a higher rate of depression among adolescents that frequently use social media. Furthermore, because social media, especially the social media of influencers, only shows the “highlights” it can cause perceived flaws and dissatisfaction in one’s own life.

Gaming Addiction

Gaming addiction is defined mainly as an intense psychological urge to routinely play video games for 10 hours or more per week.3 Much like social media addiction, gaming addiction is brought on by dopamine releases. And video games, more so even than social media, are designed to be addicting. The bright colors, constant positive affirmation, and music all play a factor in video game addiction. Although it’s also worth noting that perceived video game addiction can also be the result of the adolescent being unable to communicate in their own environments and so instead they choose to seek out friends within their comfort zone. This habit should also be monitored for its own reasons. Certain games also increase cortisol levels by keeping the brain in a high constant state of alertness for hours on end.

Teen Suicide

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens behind homicide and accidents. Teenage girls are more likely to attempt suicide but teenage boys are more likely to be successful. While most people with depression have suicidal thoughts, the fact of the matter is that teens are less likely to rationalize the reasons why not or even to seek help assuming it’s available.

Suicide Warning Signs

Giving away cherished items

Be wary when a teen or anyone you suspect may have suicidal thoughts gives away their belongings.

Direct Statements

Suicide is the last resort after cries for help go unanswered. We mean that literally. Suicidal people often state that they’re contemplating suicide or profess an obsession with death or ending the pain. What’s worse is that some may say these things jokingly as a mask for their emotions. Remember to consider other signs of depression first but to also listen to what a suicidal person may be saying.

Extreme Changes

Rapid extreme changes to personality and appearance can be a precursor to suicide. That can be a lack of hygiene, total disregard for appearance, and keeping their living arrangements dirty. (Assuming they don’t normally leave their place a mess)

How to Help Someone Exhibiting Signs of Depression?

Getting professional help for someone you love with depression is the most important action you can take. Encourage them to see a doctor and if possible, take them there yourself. Besides listening to them there’s a time-proven method of finding out if you or someone you know has teen depression.

Diagnosing Depression

The main way to diagnose depression without doctoral oversight is to use Beck’s Depression Inventory, created by acclaimed psychotherapist Aaron T. Beck.

Beck’s Depression Inventory

Beck’s depression inventory is a 21 question test that when taken truthfully can diagnosis the signs of depression. At the end of the test, you add up the numbers that correspond with your answers to see where you fall on the scale.

Depression Treatment

There’s no one size fits all cure for depression. Treatments will or won’t work depending on the cause of depression, environmental triggers, and more. There are two main types of depression treatments.

Medication

Medication can assist with depression caused by low levels of serotonin or hormonal imbalances. And in some cases, the treatments can be covered by insurance. Because of the complex nature of pharmaceutics, depression medication can come with a variety of side effects.

Therapy

Therapy can assist with trauma-induced depression and are specially trained to notice the signs of depression. The therapist will often prescribe depression medication, but therapy is a good alternative for those suffering from teen depression that can’t or won’t take depression medication.

Listen and Let Your Child Know They are Loved

Whenever possible seek professional help to treat depression. But barring that the most important thing you can do is listen, try to understand, and reinforce them with positive affirmation. Explain the value and importance they have and let them know they’re loved. If you or someone you know suffers from teen depression call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website.