Depression is more than having a bad couple of days. It is a diagnosable mental illness with specific changes in moods, thoughts and behaviors over a period of time. Similar to physical illness, depression can run in families or be triggered by stress. It can also occur at varying degrees of intensity and can look different in different people. Depression is characterized by chemical and physical changes in the brain and is diagnosed by having at least five symptoms (two of which must be the first two listed below) most of the day, every day, for two weeks or more. In addition, there must be noticeable problems with day to day functioning (i.e. school, work, relationships) that is different from what is considered “normal” for a particular person. Symtoms include:
There are also common behavioral changes we may notice that can indicate depression is at play:
Between 15-20% of teens will have a depressive episode before they reach adulthood. Depression is also more likely to reoccur throughout the life of someone who experiences it first as a child or adolescent. A common myth is that this illness has just started to develop over the last few decades or that it only happens to certain people and in certain parts of the world. However, depression is one of the oldest and well documented illnesses in history and impacts all types of individuals, everywhere.
From an outsider’s perspective, depression can look like normal mood swings, laziness, underachievement, social problems or even other illnesses. In some cases, because the true depth of a person’s depression is experienced on the inside, depression may not even be recognized by outsiders at all. Depression is the single largest risk factor to suicide with 90-98% of all people who die by suicide having a diagnosable mental illness, the most common being depression. Depression can also account for other high risk and self-destructive behaviors including the abuse of drugs or alcohol, self-harming behaviors like cutting or engaging in violence.
The most common and effective treatments for depression include talk therapy, and for some people, medication if talk therapy alone is not enough. Lifestyle changes such as proper sleep, regular exercise, a healthy diet in addition to other coping skills can also make an enormous difference in alleviating the symptoms of depression. Getting treated for depression early is important because it can often reduce the length of a depressive episode and can lessen the severity of future episodes. Untreated depression can cause changes in the brain over time and put people at higher risk for problems such as substance abuse, relationship difficulties, trouble in school or work and even suicide. Treatment for depression is available and effective, but more than 80% of people never receive treatment due to stigma. Stigma is the mark of shame that depression carries and creates isolation, loss of hope and barriers for those who suffer to recieve treatment. The good news is that stigma can be overcome through educating people and communities about depression and spreading a message of hope.
Never give up on yourself or others with depression. The disease doesn't want us to believe that we can feel better - but, with the right kind of support and professional treatment, anyone can move on to live a healthy, happy and productive life. And, we deserve it.
So, what are you waiting for? Tell a trusted adult who can help you take action towards feeling better today.
For more information on depression, check out our Parent Handbook on Childhood and Adolescent Depression. Also, don't forget to take a look at the rest of the Teen Depression Toolbox - take the teen depression test or to access more information on coping, treatment and how to help someone with depression.
In crisis? Go to our crisis page for more information on how to help yourself or someone else who needs immediate assistance.