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Teenage Depression
By Dr. Gail Gross

One in five teenagers has clinical depression, and less than 30% of those teenagers receive therapy. Teenage depression is sometimes difficult to distinguish from other psychological problems such as anxiety or attention deficit. Therefore, it is important to know the signs. With early detection, depression is one of the easiest disorders to remediate. Because teenage depression has several causes, it is important to get a diagnosis from a healthcare professional in the field of psychiatry. It is also important to know your child. Stress, a characteristic of adolescence, grieving, academic problems and social conflicts, if not addressed, can lead to depression. The teenage years are filled with what Freud called "strum und angst", meaning the emotional highs and lows that accompany both hormonal changes and, in some cases, hereditary. It is noted that teenagers are at a very high risk of suicide from depression.

When teens are depressed and suicidal, it is as if they are looking down a tunnel and, as they move down the tunnel, they run out of options to solve their problems. Ultimately they may see suicide as the only solution. Depression has many characteristics: biological, environmental and psychological and it can take many forms such as bipolar disorder. There is, in some cases, a hereditary link and new studies implicate subtleties such as rainy seasons, light and dark. Teenagers that are depressed act differently than their adult counterparts. Teenagers tend to disconnect from their feelings and therefore, though down, may not appear depressed. However, what is characteristic is a change in behavior.

" It is important to look for changes in eating habits, sleeping habits, sexual behavior, school performance, social relationships, withdrawal, any food or substance abuse, sensitivity to correction, overreaction, tears or aggression, anger, agitation, distrust of authority, and lack of self esteem. An overall malaise can often be observed where children feel exhausted and have problems with simple everyday tasks.

" In a sense, life has lost its joie de vive; children have lost their joy of living. This can be seen even in their physical appearance as well as the reflection of who they are: their room, their car, and other environmental surroundings. They may complain of physical aches and pains, headaches and stomach aches, or they may talk about dying and even start giving away some of their favorite possessions.


" Remember adolescence is a time of intense feeling and beside the obvious biological cause, there is also the need to individuate and separate from adult authority. This process moves the adolescent towards their peers for support in this separation process. As a result, everything is exaggerated in its severity; fights with boyfriends, a bad grade, an argument with sibs or mom and dad. Knowing this, parents can create a safe space for their children where empathy becomes part of the way we communicate with our teens.

Listen to your children - they will tell you everything. Be authentic. Adolescents look at parents with a critical eye and are very reactive to hypocrisy. Don't set unrealistic goals for your children.

Don't pressure your children to fulfill your unfulfilled hopes and dreams - either athletically, academically or socially. Unrealistic expectations can make children feel undervalued and this loss of self esteem can lead to feelings of worthlessness; that there must be something wrong with them. Without adult coping skills teens become oversensitive as one problem builds on another. Ultimately, there is a tipping point when children feel over-stressed. This leads to confusion and many times bad choices. Parents must parent and they must model and teach the rules of life to their children, taking into account the emotional and physical transitions that their children are experiencing.

" Using the empathic process, parents can teach their children coping skills to help them be aware of their feelings and actively deal with them. To be proactive rather than reactive will lower their stress and help protect them against depression.

All teenagers want to feel loved and accepted. Help your children with social skills - teach them how to be a friend so that they can make a friend. Give them direction with hobbies including sports. Teach responsible outcomes for positive effort such an after school job. Find out their passions, their interests, and help them participate in school clubs and other types of programs - and know your child's history.

If they have experienced familial divorce or the loss of a parent or a sibling, even a meaningful pet, then if necessary, seek professional help for your child.


Teenage depression is most successfully treated in a multi-disciplined way, meaning:

1. Psychotherapy.
2. Medication (when needed) - anti-depressants are very effective when called for and can change a child's mental stasis in just a few weeks.
3. Behavior modification - which gives your child skills to become self actualized as they learn to manage their own stress.

Remember - depression is a very treatable condition and requires each family member to know one another so that they can recognize a cry for help.

Dr. Gail Gross is a nationally recognized expert, author and lecturer on juvenile education, behavior and development issues. Dr. Gross and her husband, Jenard, founded The Cuney Home School in partnership with Texas Southern University. Dr. Gross received a B.S. in education and psychology and an Ed.D. from the University of Houston. She earned her master's degree in secondary education with a focus in psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. She is a former teacher in the Houston Independent School District. Visit Dr. Gross at www.drgailgross.com.

The information presented on this site is intended solely as a general educational aid, and is neither medical nor healthcare advice for any individual problem, nor a substitute for medical or other professional advice and services from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your unique circumstances. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any medical condition and before starting any new treatment.


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