More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Faces of Teenage Depression
David Baxter
March 2004

During the adolescent years, teenagers experience a series of massive hormonal changes, brain growth, personality growth, socialization influences, and changes in body image and self-perceptions. In addition, they are trying to cope with all of this in an increasingly stressful and challenging world – one which in many significant ways is much more troubling than the world in which most of their parents grew up – a world where they must confront increasingly common problems such as parental separation and divorce, peer pressure to experiment with sometimes dangerous drugs or activities, the threat of gang violence and swarmings, racism and bigotry, worries about serious incurable diseases like AIDS and SARS, fears about terrorism, and dire predictions about a limited economic and career future once (or if) they finish high school, college, or university.

Teens often try to cope with what they’re feeling by withdrawing and hiding in their rooms away from their parents. In turn, many parents, either because they don’t know how to respond to the teen or because they believe that they are part of the reason the teen is acting this way, withdraw themselves to avoid conflict or react angrily to the irritability or anger they see being directed at them.

Most teenagers and parents find a way to navigate successfully through this troubling time and in a few years things seem to return to “normal”. So as a parent, how do you distinguish “normal moodiness” or “teenage angst” from something more serious?

How common is teenage depression?
Typical estimates are that about 4 to 12% of teens suffer depression sufficiently severe to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of Major Depression; many more probably meet the criteria for Adjustment Reaction with Depressed Mood (a less severe reaction to a specific event or events in the teen’s life) or Dysthymic Disorder (basically a form of chronic mild depression). The National Institute of Mental Health also reports that teenage girls are more likely to develop depression than teenage boys (NIMH, 2000) – however, that may indicate only that teenage boys are more likely to hide their symptoms behind surliness or anger. What is even more worrisome is that there are repeated suggestions that many cases, perhaps as high as 60 to 80%, go undiagnosed and therefore untreated...

Signs That May Be Associated with Teenage Depression
Bear in mind that it is not uncommon for any teen to exhibit some of these signs from time to time, and that a teen who exhibits only one or two of these symptoms for a short period of time is not necessarily suffering from depression:

o Frequent physical complaints such as headaches, stomachaches or tiredness
o Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
o Sadness and hopelessness
0 Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation
o Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
o Increased indecision, poor concentration, forgetfulness
o Outbursts of anger, shouting, complaining, unexplained irritability, or crying
o Hypersensitivity to criticism or perceived rejection or failure
o Withdrawal from friends and activities
o Social isolation, poor communication
o Alcohol or drug abuse
o Poor self-esteem or guilt
o Problems with authority
o Suicidal thoughts or actions

Risk Factors for Depression
In childhood, boys and girls appear to be at equal risk for depressive disorders, but during adolescence, it is generally believed that girls are twice as likely as boys to develop depression. However, this may be misleading –girls are more likely to exhibit symptoms such as sadness and crying and to express their unhappiness directly; boys are more likely to suffer alone and/or to express their distress in the form of anger or aggression (see William Pollock’s book, “Real Boys”). more of this article
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