Mired in a world that often feels overwhelming and lonely, research reveals that about 20% of teenagers grapple with depression. As a backdrop to understanding what I wish someone had told me when I was a depressed teen, let’s first delve into what depression really is, and what such a diagnosis in one’s teen years might mean for the future.
My adolescence wasn’t as exciting as the ones most people remember, with nostalgic longing and whimsical musings. A little less fantastic. No, they hurt a lot more than that. Awful. Horrific. Why is that? My adolescent depression went unrecognized and untreated for a long time. Like millions of other young people, I struggled with mental illness.
So that you may understand what it’s like to be a depressed adolescent, I’ll tell you about myself. About who and what I am (even now). See, I’ve never been the type of girl who plays by the rules. I’m only five feet tall but look shorter because of my slouching posture. My posture is perpetually rounded shoulders. I have a habit of looking down and down. Either it’s there at my feet, or it’s far, far away. I feel completely uneasy in my own body. In addition, I am a somewhat awkward person. In a word, I’m clumsy. Gawky. Socially incompetent and prone to blundering. However, my level of unease changed while I was in high school. I can’t pinpoint the moment when my mood changed, but I now understand why it did.
Adolescent depression is a medical emergency. “It’s more than just feeling sad or ‘blue’ for a few days,” explains Medline Plus, a National Library of Medicine service. It’s a powerful emotion like grief, despair, rage, or impatience… The article says, “[it] makes it hard to function normally and do your usual activities.” You might also feel unmotivated and exhausted and have problems focusing. Feelings of hopelessness and despair can make it difficult to find pleasure in even the simplest of activities.
The truth is, I can identify. There was this overwhelming melancholy that I didn’t think would ever go away. I was mentally exhausted since my thoughts were racing at the speed of light. It hurt all over, physically. In my head, I was fighting a battle as both an ally and an adversary. No triumph would be possible, only defeat. I gave up my life for a cause. Something I lost in my own war. What about helplessness? The desperation? How void everything felt is beyond my ability to describe. How burdensomely useless existence had become.
I avoided all human interaction, however. My thoughts had grown darker, scarier, and irregular, so I withdrew into myself and became more reserved. Using my Discman, I silenced the chattering in my head. (I realize I’m showing my age by saying this, but in my day, people listened to music on CDs, which were flat and shiny discs on the outside.) Until one day, I didn’t cry at all; I shed many tears. When I closed my eyes, everything disappeared. Until the waterworks stopped. And I started using destructive coping strategies. My self-injury had begun. Doing myself harm. Alcohol would be present afterward. I did everything I could to dull the pain of the void. The void, as it were. I was sure that (just) one more taste would bring me to a state of bliss.
The sense of isolation I experienced pervaded my entire being. Teen depression is especially difficult to deal with. There’s no need for laughter. My clinical depression ended when I was 39 years old, but there are still things I wish I’d understood back then. Some ideas are beyond my current level of understanding. Some facts concerning depression and, more specifically, adolescent depression are shown here.
Depression Is Common Among Teens
It’s important to remember that you’re not alone; millions of other teenagers deal with depression, too. Among young people aged 12 to 17, depression affects about 15% annually, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Furthermore, rates of depression among adolescents are increasing. One study from 2022 indicated that one in five teenagers suffer from depression consistently.
There Are Several Roots of Teen Depression
The root of depression, especially in adolescents, is still unknown, but there are things that can put someone “at risk.” Among these are:
- Experiencing challenges (such as those with peers, in school, or due to bullying) that undermine one’s sense of self-worth.
- Being a victim of or witness to physical aggression.
- Having a coexisting mental disorder or disorders.
- Being diagnosed with a learning condition or hyperactivity/attention deficit disorder.
- Being in constant discomfort or suffering from a persistent illness.
- Characteristics of low self-esteem include an unduly dependent, self-critical, or negative outlook on life.
- Misusing or abusing substances like nicotine, alcohol, or caffeine.
- Identifying as a member of the LGBTQIA group while living in a hostile community.
- Brain chemistry changes, and heredity can both have a role.
The majority of depressed adolescents will eventually feel better.
Even though the number of depressed teens has been rising in recent years, most of them get better as they get older. One estimate puts that number at 50%.
Teen Depression Symptoms Include Sadness, but They Go Beyond That
Sadness is merely one symptom of depression, despite how common it is among adults and adolescents with the disorder. Not everyone who suffers from depression experiences overwhelming feelings of sadness. Some typical signs of depression are:
- A feeling of emptiness or numbness.
- A sense of alienation.
- Negative emotions such as guilt, embarrassment, and feelings of worthlessness.
- Alterations in your eating habits.
- An issue with sleeping.
- Concentration issues.
- Having suicidal ideas.
Medication for Depression Is Not a Permanent Solution
Depression can be treated in many other ways besides only with medicine. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America recommends cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as the initial treatment for moderate depression.
Combining therapy and medication is often effective in treating more severe depression. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the gold standard for treating depression. But don’t worry; this doesn’t imply you’ll have to take medication forever. The majority of depressed persons do not need ongoing medical treatment.
However, if you need to stay on antidepressants indefinitely, that is fine too. There is no stigma attached, and the potential side effects are minimal. The state of one’s health, happiness, and well-being as a whole are of paramount importance.