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Adolescent depression is on the increase, with statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health showing 3.2 million teens between the ages of 12 and 17 have had at least one major depressive episode during the preceding 12 months.
Depressed teens often struggle with anxiety and substance abuse, too, which is why spotting the mood disorder in its early stages can be challenging.
The number of suicides has risen across all age groups in the last decade, and it is now the second-leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24, (beaten only by death caused by unintentional injuries or accidents).
In case that didn’t sink in, suicide is the second-leading cause of death in 15 to 24-year-olds! I find that very shocking, and quite sad.
Such epidemic proportions of youth suicide are very concerning, and it’s commonly believed depression is one of the main reasons for this. Some of this depression is related to the way teens connect with each other in digital environments, which can cause social isolation. Other reasons are academic stress and the ease with which teens can look up suicide methods online.
Mental health professionals don’t have all the answers when it comes to depression in teens, but they are aware of some of the most common causes. These include:
Brain chemistry. Naturally-occurring brain chemicals called neurotransmitters send signals to various parts of the body and brain. When the chemicals reach abnormal levels (high or low) or the brain suffers some sort of damage, the chemistry changes, which can lead to depression.
Hormonal changes. Puberty is the start of the last phase of brain development, and it affects teens in this age group. In girls, estrogen surges cause ovarian stimulation ahead of puberty, while in boys the progesterone and testosterone can cause mental havoc. Any of these can result in an imbalance that triggers depression.
Genetic heritage. Science has proved that depression is more common in people who have blood relatives suffering from the condition.
Traumatic events in childhood. Researchers estimate up to 40% of children experience (or witness) at least one traumatic event in their lives, such as physical violence, an accident, a natural disaster or sexual abuse. About half of those children bounce back, but the other half develop a degree of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) as a result.
Negative thought patterns. Depression in teenagers and young people is often linked to issues that impact their self-esteem, such as feelings of helplessness, obesity, bullying or academic difficulties. Issues that cause “differentness” are also strong predictors of depression, such as a teen having chronic pain, learning or physical disabilities, mental health disorders, or alternative sexual orientation or identity.
Family conflict. Household issues such as a relative with financial problems, addiction or alcohol use can cause teens to experience depression. Parental divorce, absence for military service or work, or the death of a loved one can also cause inner or outer conflict, leading to dysfunctional family life.
There are multiple types of depression young people can develop, but many of them have similar, recognizable symptoms. If you notice your teen showing one or more of these signs for a period of two weeks or more, they could be in the process of having a depressive episode:
By analyzing the symptoms, medical professionals can determine the type of depressive condition the teen is experiencing.
Many schools don’t have the resources to help students in need, but those that do can make use of gatekeeper training to identify students who might be at risk and to get them into counseling. Suicide prevention programs and educational programs aimed at helping teens handle their emotions provide ways to help.
Many of these are covered by grant funding such as the Garrett Lee Smith State/Tribal Youth Suicide Prevention and Early Intervention Grant Program, which has been shown to lower suicide rates in schools. Allowing supportive environments like the gay-straight alliances (GSAs) has reduced suicide risk in both teens who identify as LGBTQ and those who don’t.
Parents and adults in communities can be empowered to act, too, by keeping the lines of communication in homes open, and by learning to listen in a non-judgemental way. Rather than giving in to the impulse to problem-solve, parents should give teens the opportunity to figure out solutions for themselves. A recent study showed caring adults who received appropriate training to intervene and support depressed teens were able to reduce the rate of suicide among the teens they worked with.
Doctors are often far too quick to prescribe medication for depression. For one thing, it’s ironic that anti-depressant medications all carry a “black box” warning that they might increase the risk of suicide in this age group. Treating teen and youth depression depends on the diagnosis, but a combination of talk therapy (psychotherapy) and lifestyle adjustments can be very helpful and might avoid the use of medications.
Healthy eating and a lack of junk food combined with the rush of endorphins from exercise can make a difference, avoiding alcohol and drugs and adopting ideal sleeping habits can all help to make a teen better able to handle day to day living. Natural health supplements like Dr. Garber’s Depression Relief or our Sleep Aid product can help teens and young adults to get through a difficult phase without prescription drugs.
Contact us for more information on how Dr. Garber’s Natural Solutions can help handle teen depression and anxiety in your family.