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Depressed Teenagers: The Problem, Risks, Signs, and Solutions


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Is your child sad or appear to have no affect at all? Is yourchild preoccupied with the topic of death or other morbidtopics? Has your son or daughter expressed suicidalthoughts or ideas? Are they extremely moody or irritablebeyond the normal hormonal twists and turns of childhood?Has there been a drastic change in your child’s eating orsleeping patterns? If you answered yes to any of thesequestions, your child may be suffering from a common butdevastating mental health disorder, called depression.The Problem:Depression occurs in 8 percent of all adolescent lives.Research indicates that children, in general, are becomingdepressed earlier in live. The implications of this is that theearlier the onset of the illness the longer and more chronicthe problem. Studies suggest that depression oftenpersists, recurs, and continues into adulthood, andindicates that depression in youth may also predict moresevere illness in adult life. Depression in young peopleoften co-occurs with other mental disorders, mostcommonly anxiety, disruptive behavior, or substance abusedisorders, and with physical illnesses, such as diabetes.The Risks:Teenagers often turn to substances to “self-medicate” thefeelings of depression. They reject prescribed medicationsbecause of the way it makes them feel and because of thenegative social implications of being labeled as depressed.Drinking alcohol and using other substances may maketeenagers feel better for a short period of time but the needto continually use these substances to feel “high” createsdependence and poses a serious health risk. Depressionin adolescence is also associated with an increased riskof suicidal behavior. Suicide is the third leading cause ofdeath for 10 to 24-year-olds and as much as 7 percent ofall depressed teens will make a suicide attempt.The Signs:Signs that frequently accompany depression inadolescence include: • Frequent vague, non-specificphysical complaints such as headaches, muscle aches,stomachaches or tiredness • Frequent absences fromschool or poor school performance • Talk of or efforts torun away from home • Outbursts of shouting, complaining,unexplained irritability, or crying • Being bored • Lack ofinterest in playing with friends • Alcohol or substance abuse• Social isolation, poor communication • Fear of death •Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure • Increasedirritability, anger, or hostility • Reckless behavior • Difficultywith relationshipsParents often witness these warning signs but fail to act onthem. Why? Because some teens hide the symptoms fromtheir parents or parents chalk it up to a stage ormoodiness. Many teenagers go through a time of darklooking/acting behavior with all black clothing and bizarrehair arrangements. This can throw a parent off of the trail ofdepression by the bewilderment of teen actions andbehaviors. In addition, many teens react aggressively whenconfronted about possible depression by their parentscausing mom and dad to back off.The Solutions:When dealing with teen depression, it is always better to“be safe than sorry.” Coping with an adolescent’s anger ismuch easier to deal with then handling his or her successfulsuicide or overdose. When parents first notice the signs ofdepression, it is important to sit down with their teen andask them, gently but firmly, if they are feeling depressed orsuicidal. Contrary to popular belief, asking a child if he orshe has had any thoughts of hurting or killing themselvesdoes not cause them to act on that subject. If the teenrejects the idea that they are depressed and continues toshow warning signs, it will be necessary to seekprofessional help.If the child acknowledges that he or she is depressed,immediately contact your physician and seek the assistanceof a mental health professional that works with children andadolescents. In addition, parents can help their teen byconfronting self-defeating behaviors and thoughts bypointing out their positive attributes and value. Parents mayneed to prompt their teen to eat, sleep, exercise, andperform basic hygiene tasks on a daily basis. Doing thesedaily routines can dramatically help improve mood. Try todirect the teen to hang out with positive peers. Steer themaway from other depressed adolescents. Exploreunderlying feelings of anger, hurt, and loss. Even thesmallest loss of a friend or pet can intensify feelings ofsadness. Allow the teen to talk, draw, or journal about theirfeelings without judgment. And for suicidal teens, make a“no-harm” contract for 24 to 48 hours at a time when theywill not hurt themselves.With proper care and treatment, depression can bealleviated and suicidal behaviors prevented. Parents andteen may even find a new, deeper relationship developingbetween them as they work through the dark feelings ofdepression.Reference:National Institute of Mental Health Web Site. “Children andDepression: A Fact Sheet for Physicians.”http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/depchildresfact.cfm


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Ron Huxley has been on several TV and Radio Shows as parenting expert. Contact him at ptmembers@aol.com

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