“Clinical depression differs from a sad mood because in a sad mood it’s like you’re sitting on the edge looking into a black hole, feeling absolute despair, but in depression you actually fell in and the light is a tiny spec far away; it’s like you lost your grip on that edge,” is how ‘Penny’ described it.
Sometimes being agitated, anger, hopelessness, feelings of guilt, shame or worthlessness can be attributed to depression in teens. Penny often suffered vague stomach aches, seemed listless, and sometimes skipped school, lying in bed in a dark room with the covers over her head. She felt ugly, unworthy and worthless, and cried what seemed like all the time. She told her mom she just ‘wanted to die.’ Mom thought it was Penny’s normal monthly hormones kicking in again until she realized weeks had gone by like that, and Penny didn’t even join the family for dinner many nights. When Penny’s mom found a poem about dying, she opened a discussion.
Mental Health America of Summit County has a program called Red Flags (You can read more at www.redflags.org) and a school-based depression awareness and intervention program. The Red Flags brochure says, ‘Recent research on the brain has shown that many behaviors once thought to be odd or the result of character flaws are really due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. These illnesses can affect anyone including children. Early diagnosis and treatment improve the child’s chances of normal functioning and can help to prevent long term consequences such as low self-esteem, poor school performance, and impaired social development.’
‘It’s important to treat depression because teens with depression suffer a higher risk of suicide and/or substance abuse,’ says Amy Carlisle, LPC, MS, Acute Therapist at Pomegranate. Pomegranate’s acute hospital treats suicidal, homicidal and psychotic youth. That includes teens who have made an attempt to harm themselves or end their life.
Depression may manifest differently in male teens. When ‘Leshawn’ was cut from the team, he withdrew from his other school activities and began skipping classes and then school entirely. His grades, which had never been strong, plummeted. He began not caring about his appearance and his personal hygiene declined. His sister reported he was hanging out at a friend’s house playing video games all day –alone, staying up half the night, and getting high. He was belligerent to his mom –who worked two jobs, and had sullen angry outbursts where he did delinquent and unusual things-like driving 90mph swerving in and out of freeway traffic, stealing Red Bull from the corner market, drinking vodka and hanging out with an older unemployed guy who’d served time. His dad was not in the picture, and grandma, who lived with them, was worried and even scared that, ‘no good could come of it.’ He was negative, ‘down on himself’, and ‘uncontrollable’, totally opposite from the sunny child he’d been.
In a case of behavior change such as recklessness, acting out, giving away possessions, change in personal care or daily activities, professionals advise families to seek professional help. ‘There are several mental or behavioral health conditions with depression as a symptom, and a teen may be suffering from one or more conditions. Tell a doctor what the symptoms are, how long the symptoms have been going on, and what changed in the teen’s life recently. She or he will want to know if anyone in the family was diagnosed with depression, bi-polar or another mental or behavioral health disorder,’ says Carlisle. ‘Its important to take depression seriously because suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for young people. A young person dies by suicide every hour and 57 minutes according to AAS, American Association of Suicidology. ‘Call a hotline if suicidal ideation is present, and a teen has a plan. This must be taken seriously,’ she adds.
Here are some links to resources:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation: http://www.ohiospf.org
Call 211 in Knox or Licking County or 740-349-9894
Red Flags: http://www.redflags.org/
Signs of Suicide: http://www.mentalhealthscreening.org/
Look up support groups/resources in your area:
Mental Health America www.nmha.org
National Alliance for Mentally Ill (NAMI) www.nami.org/youth
Columbus area directory of resources: http://www.Cap4Kids.com
AFSP National, (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)-‘More than Sad: Teen Depression’ -5 clips
Akron Children’s Hospital, ‘Ask Children’s: Teen Depression’- ORLivedotcom
TMW Media- has several videos on depressed teens
CBS- Jennifer Hartstein, psychologist on the death of Marie Osmond’s son by suicide
[Photo credit: ambulance from Wikimedia Commons, permissions granted]