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Teen Depression


Teen Depression
Ted Hunter, MD
Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist 

Parents of teenage children who present with sadness, irritability, anger, or mood swings often ask me “Is this normal and they’ll grow out of it?” Or, “should I be worried?” Knowing the difference between normal sadness and teenage depression is critically important since depression can impact every aspect of a young person’s life, leading to low self-esteem, academic failure, drug and alcohol abuse, internet addiction, truancy, self-mutilation, reckless behaviors, violence, and in some cases suicide. 

Parents or guardians should be attuned to any changes in the teen from their usual self, or deterioration in behaviors or mood that last two weeks or longer. Teens who are depressed quite often display feelings by being grumpy, angry, easily frustrated or irritable rather than appearing sad or tearful. Sleeping or eating more or less, withdrawing from friends or family, hanging out with a different crowd, using drugs or alcohol, having suicidal thoughts, or engaging is self-harming behaviors such as cutting are other warning signs that this may be more than just “normal sadness.” Physical complaints such as headaches or stomachaches that cannot be medically explained may also point to depression.

Unfortunately, more than 70% of children and adolescents with depressive disorders are not being diagnosed or treated. The U.S Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening for major depressive disorder (MDD) in adolescents aged 12 to 18 years. Given the current debate over whether universal screening of adolescents is warranted or justified, it is important to note that the USPSTF stressed that “screening should be implemented with adequate systems in place to ensure accurate diagnosis, effective treatment, and appropriate follow-up.” Screening often takes place in primary care settings, and can take the form of physician clinical interviews, depression-structured questionnaires, or more general mental health questionnaires. Primary care doctors will also give the teenager a complete physical exam and take blood samples to make sure there are not medical causes for the child’s symptoms.

It is very important that parents or guardians seek professional help when they see warning signs, because depression is very damaging when left untreated. Fortunately, there are effective treatment options available for managing depression.  But time is of essence, and hesitation or delay is not only unwise, but can in some instances become fatal.


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