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Wellness Wise

Teen Depression

Do you ever wonder whether your irritable or unhappy adolescent might actually be experiencing teen depression? Of course, most teens feel unhappy at times, and when you add hormone havoc to the many other changes happening in a teen's life, it's easy to see why their moods swing like a pendulum. Yet findings show that one out of every eight adolescents has teen depression. Depression can be treated, as can the serious problems associated with it. So if your teen's unhappiness lasts for more than two weeks and he or she displays other symptoms of depression, it may be time to seek help from a health professional.

Why do adolescents get depression?

There are multiple reasons why a teenager might become unhappy. For example, teens can develop feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy over their grades. School performance, social status with peers, sexual orientation, or family life can each have a major effect on how a teen feels. Sometimes, teen depression may result from environmental stress. Whatever the cause, when friends or family -- or things that the teen usually enjoys -- don't help to improve his or her sadness or sense of isolation, there's a good chance that he or she has teen depression.

What are the symptoms of teen depression?

Often, kids with teen depression will have a noticeable change in their thinking and behavior. They may have no motivation and even become withdrawn, closing their bedroom door after school and staying in their room for hours.

Kids with teen depression may sleep excessively, have a change in eating habits, and may even exhibit criminal behaviors such as DUI or shoplifting. Here are more signs of depression in adolescents:

Can teen depression run in families?

Yes. Depression, which usually starts between the ages of 15 and 30, runs in families. In fact, teen depression may be more common among adolescents who have a family history of depression.

How is teen depression diagnosed?

There aren't any specific medical tests that can detect depression. Health care professionals determine if an adolescent has teen depression by conducting clinical diagnostic interviews and psychological tests with the teen and his or her family members, teachers, and peers.

The severity of the teen depression and the risk of suicide are determined based on the assessment of these interviews. Treatment recommendations are also made based on the data collected from the interviews.

The doctor will also look for signs of potentially co-existing psychiatric disorders such as anxiety, mania, or schizophrenia. The doctor will also assess the teen for risks of suicidal or homicidal behaviors.

How is teen depression treated?

There are a variety of methods used to treat depression, including medications and psychotherapy. Family therapy may be helpful if family conflict is contributing to the teen depression. The teen will also need support from family or teachers to help with any school or peer problems. Occasionally, hospitalization in a psychiatric unit may be required for teenagers with severe depression.

Your mental health care provider will determine the best course of treatment for your teen.

The FDA warns that antidepressant medications may increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children and adolescents with depression and other psychiatric disorders. If you have questions or concerns, discuss them with your health care provider.

Does depression medicine work for teen depression?

Yes. A large number of research trials have shown the effectiveness of depression medications in relieving the symptoms of teen depression. One key recent study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, reviewed three different approaches to treating adolescents with moderate to severe depression:

At the end of the 12-week study, researchers found that nearly three out of every four patients who received the combination treatment -- depression medication and psychotherapy -- significantly improved. More than 60% of the kids who took Prozac alone improved. But the study confirmed that combination treatment was nearly twice as effective in relieving depression as psychotherapy alone.

What are the warning signs for teen suicide?

Suicide is a serious problem with teens. Adolescent suicide is a leading cause of death among youth and young adults in the U.S. It is estimated that 500,000 teens attempt suicide every year with 5,000 succeeding. These are epidemic numbers.

Family difficulties, the loss of a loved one, or perceived failures at school or in relationships can all lead to negative feelings and depression. And teen depression often makes problems seem overwhelming and the associated pain unbearable. Suicide is an act of desperation and teen depression is often the root cause.

Warning signs of suicide with teen depression include:

If your teenager displays any of these behaviors, you should seek help from a mental healthcare professional immediately call a suicide hotline for help.

Depression carries a high risk of suicide. Anybody who expresses suicidal thoughts or intentions should be taken very, very seriously. Do not hesitate to call your local suicide hotline immediately. Call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) -- or the deaf hotline at 1-800-799-4889.

What can parents do to alleviate teen depression?

Parenting teenagers can be very challenging. There are, though, some effective parenting and communication techniques you can use to help lower the stress level for your teenager:

If you feel overwhelmed or unable to reach your teen, or if you continue to be concerned, seek help from a qualified healthcare professional.

Can't teen depression go away without medical treatment?

Teen depression tends to come and go in episodes. Once a teenager has one bout of depression, he or she is likely to get depressed again at some point. The consequence of letting teen depression go untreated can be extremely serious, even deadly.


The UT Employee Assistance Program (EAP), a benefit of your University of Texas employment, which provides confidential, professional assistance to help you resolve problems that affect your personal life or job performance. It is designed to allow you to seek help when you need it, at no charge. The EAP can help with stress, depression, alcohol or drug problems, financial issues, interpersonal problems and much more. It also offers other services such as seminars, training and resource referrals.

Visit the UT System EAP main page for a directory of all institutions' EAP (

Article Source:

National Institute of Mental Health: "What is Depression?"
Food and Drug Administration: "The Lowdown on Depression."
Mental Health America: "Factsheet: Depression in Teens."
Medline Plus: "Adolescent Depression." "The Use of Medication in Treating Childhood and Adolescent Depression: Information for Patients and Families."
SAMHSA: "Major Depression in Children and Adolescents."
Medline Plus: "Teen Mental Health."
American Psychiatric Association, Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Major Depression, 2000.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV-TR, American Psychiatric Pub, 2000.
Fieve, R, MD. Bipolar II, Rodale Books, 2006.

This information is provided by The University of Texas System, Office of Employee Benefits and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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