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by Dr. Solomon Zaraa
Adolescence is a challenging time for teens and their families. It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between a temporary phase in behaviors or if your teen is experiencing signs and symptoms of depression.
The term depression is frequently used as a descriptor of emotion but Major Depressive Disorder is not a short one-time event. Major Depressive Disorder is an illness with a set of signs and symptoms that lasts over several weeks or months at a time and have a noticeable impact on functioning at home and school. Approximately 6 percent of teens are currently experiencing Major Depressive Disorder. There is an increased incidence of depressive illness in the children of parents with significant depression. It is important to identify the signs and seek early treatment because Major Depression in teens continues into adulthood and suicide is the third leading cause of death among 14 to 22 year olds. Some of the signs of Major Depressive Disorder include:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopeless, or even irritability
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyed
- Increase in social isolation, appetite or weight changes
- Change in sleep patterns
- Decreased energy, fatigue, feeling slowed down for no reason, “burned out”
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Feelings of hopelessness or excessive pessimism
- Decreased motivation
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Recurrent thoughts of death, wishing to die, thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts, or self-harming behaviors
- Increase in vague or non-specific aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems.
- Increased getting in trouble at home and/or school
- Decreased academic performance
Sometimes, Major Depressive Disorder can be precipitated by stressors, so it is important to talk to your teen about what you’ve noticed and ask them about how they are feeling. Be sure to ask if they feel unsafe or have thought about hurting themselves or ending their lives.
If you think that your teen may be suffering from Major Depressive Disorder, talk to your physician about referral for evaluation and treatment by a qualified mental health professional. If you believe that your teen may be experiencing suicidal thoughts, is struggling to remain safe, or needs urgent attention, please go to your nearest Emergency Room or dial 911.
Solomon Zaraa, D.O. is an assistant professor of Psychiatry and Medical Director of Inpatient Services at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University Hospitals Case Medical Center.