Written by Emily Hammer
As our society advances and we learn new things about the human brain every day, we learn about and become more familiar with mental illnesses. However, the negative stigma surrounding them continues, making it hard for neuroatypicals to feel welcomed in society. This effect can especially be found in teens who suffer from mental illnesses as they make their way from an already stressful life: peer pressure, media influence, family life, and later, the decision of what to do after high school. It’s no wonder teens are more likely now than ever to develop a mental illness.
The most important thing to know is that you’re not alone. Cliché, yes, but depression affects nearly 20% of teens by the time they’re adults. The difference between clinical depression and just sadness is that depression can affect and interfere with your ability to function correctly. There is also not one known ‘cause’ of depression, rather a jumble of psychological, biological, and environmental factors, a fancy way of saying depression doesn’t discriminate. There is no one kind of people it ‘targets;’ everyone is susceptible and you are not weak if you suffer from it. Unfortunately, not everyone is in a caring and accepting environment; suicide is the third leading cause of death in teens in the United States.
Depressive illnesses can leave the victim suffering from symptoms for weeks, months, or years if no treatment is pursued or received. It often results in the victims being unable to perform seemingly simple daily activities, such as getting out of bed or getting dressed, much less working or socializing. Some of the most common symptoms include: feeling sad, crying spells, loss of interest/pleasure in activities, significant increase or decrease in appetite, significant weight loss or gain, change in sleep (too much or too little), agitation, irritability, anger, fatigue, loss of energy, tendency to isolate self, trouble concentrating, excessive guilt, and thoughts of death or suicide. You might have depression if you experience at least five of these strongly and have been in a depressed or irritable mood for at least two weeks and should consider consulting a doctor.
About 3,000 teens commit suicide each year in the United States. Teens of minorities are most likely to consider, attempt, and complete suicide than their majority peers. Warning signs for teen suicide include: sudden change in behavior, lack of motivation, isolation/withdrawal, change in eating patterns, preoccupation with death, giving away personal possessions, increased moodiness, and feelings of hopelessness. If you fear someone you know is about to commit suicide, don’t be afraid to confront them gently and tell an adult who is close to them.
Treatment for teen depression can be supportive therapy, psychotherapy, medications, and complementary therapies. What a doctor describes depends on each patient and their situation. What works well for one may worsen another. If it comes down to it, a teen may be admitted into a mental ward. Most times, this will be with other children under 18 with reasons for admittance from behavioral problems to autism to mental illnesses.
Teen depression is a risk factor that may lead to the development of other mental illnesses and symptoms. These victims are more likely to engage in self-harm and alcohol and drug abuse, as well as being more at risk to early pregnancy and poor school performance. Adults who suffered from depression during their teen years are at a higher risk for job disruptions, as well as other social disturbances.
As someone who suffers from depression as well as a few other disorders, I wanted to keep this article as factual as possible. Now it’s my turn to tell you: depression sucks. Mental illnesses suck. They’re beyond stigmatized, and hearing ‘Get over it!’ or ‘You’ll be fine.’ on a daily basis hurts, and that’s from people who aren’t aware of my illness. Hearing it from people who know how badly I suffer is even worse. As far as medications: make sure you’re on the right one, because the warning label that says “May increase suicidal thoughts” isn’t lying. I was on Prozac for the longest time, and it honestly made me worse. I don’t remember who I was for those months. Now, being on Celexa, I feel like I have control over myself again.
Depression is a serious thing. It’s not ‘Well, I’m feeling a little sad today!’ It’s worse. Depending on the severity, it can range from ‘I can’t get out of bed again. I can’t face the world.’ to ‘Where’s my fucking razor?’ Too often, teen depression is treated as a joke because ‘all teens are moody they’re just being a teenager.’ Guess what! When you have 3,000 youth dying from it each year, it’s not a joke anymore. Stop laughing at the idea that young people can suffer from this illness. Actually, stop laughing at everyone with mental illnesses you don’t deem sociable. Stop telling us it’s ‘all in our head!’ Yeah, it’s in our head, it’s a mental illness. In fact, it’s affecting the very thing that controls my daily functions. You wouldn’t laugh at someone with cancer, right? Then don’t laugh at us because we have as much control over our illnesses as people with cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, whatever disease you want to throw in.
If you get nothing else from reading this mess, please know that it’s okay to suffer from depression and all other illnesses. You are not bad because of it. Your illness does not define it. It is a part of who you are, it influences you, sometimes hurts and sometimes helps you, but it is not all you are. You are your favorite books, the first word you ever said, how clean or messy you keep your room, the stuffed animal you’ll never lose, the constellation you look for when laying under the stars, and the million other things you’ve grown up doing, saying, loving, or hating. Your illness is important, but you are more so. Someone loves you and if you don’t think anyone does, then I do. I promise.
*If you are feeling suicidal, please do not hesitate to tell your parents or guardian, call the police, or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (USA) at 1-800-784-2433.
**Facts and statistics courtesy of medicinenet.com/teen_depression/article.htm – other resources available here as well