If you have depressive thoughts, you might sometimes wonder if you have depression – as in clinical depression.
A voice inside your head may say things like:
“Is this really depression? Maybe it’s just a phase? Or maybe I’m just overanalyzing my feelings? If I was actually depressed, shouldn’t I be… XYZ?”
What makes it worse is when other people’s opinions cause you to doubt yourself. Relatives or friends may raise their eyebrows when they hear you have depression. They may even make insensitive and judgmental comments like “Are you sure you have depression?” or “You don’t look like you’re depressed” or “I thought teens with depression always…XYZ”.
These kinds of statements may cause you to doubt whether your mental health symptoms are genuine.
Being Mindful of Mental Health
First, we’re here to tell you that many teens with mental health issues like depression doubt the validity of their own feelings.
But we have a very important message to give you:
Your feelings are real.
No matter how often you – or others – invalidate them.
Your feelings are real.
Every emotion and thought you experience at a given moment is real. When you feel sad, recognize that your sadness, at that moment, is genuine. Don’t analyze whether you should or shouldn’t feel sad. Don’t try to push the feeling aside.
In dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), this is called practicing mindfulness. When you’re mindful of your own thoughts and feelings, you observe them nonjudgmentally. That means not evaluating your thoughts or emotions as good or bad.
You allow them to exist as-is.
In the same vein, being mindful means not analyzing whether your thought is real or not real. If you experience an emotion, then you experience an emotion. To practice nonjudgmental mindfulness, practice describing your feelings as they arise:
“I feel a wave of sadness coming on.”
Meditation and other DBT skills can help you get better at accepting your emotions as you experience them – without self-judgment.
Every Person is Different
Also, now is the time to mention that every case of depression is different. Every person has a unique genetic makeup and grows up with a different childhood experience. No two people experience the same reality through all the years of their lives.
Which means that your depression won’t be the same as someone else’s depression, whether that person is your best friend, sister, or a random stranger. That’s why you shouldn’t compare your mental health symptoms with others. It’s not helpful – and can even make you feel worse.
One teen’s symptoms of depression may include suicidal thoughts, while another’s may not – but that doesn’t mean their depression isn’t real. Likewise, one teen may not be able to eat normally if they’re depressed. Another depressed teen may have a ravenous appetite and may eat constantly. And still another teen won’t experience any changes in their eating habits at all.
That doesn’t mean one has depression and one doesn’t. Or that one person’s depression is worse. It just means that everyone’s mental health symptoms manifest differently.
Symptoms of Depression in Teens
Only a licensed mental health professional can diagnose a mental health disorder like depression.
However, many teens find it helpful to know and understand the common symptoms of depression. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) someone has depression when their daily symptoms last longer than two weeks, and/or when they lose interest in many things they used to like.
If you experience five or more of the following symptoms every day for at least two weeks – and one of those symptoms are (1) or (2) – you might have clinical depression:
- Depressed mood
- Noticeably diminished interest or pleasure in activities
- Weight and/or appetite increase/decrease
- Slowing down of thought/less physical movement
- Always tired, loss of energy
- Feelings of low self-esteem, worthlessness, excessive guilt
- Inability to think clearly, concentrate, or make decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide*
If you are considering suicide, please stop reading this and call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. If you don’t want to call 911 or go to the hospital, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Notice that a clinical diagnosis only requires an individual to experience one of the first two symptoms. Other symptoms can vary.
Clinical Assessment for Teen Depression
As a general rule, whenever you’re feeling negative thoughts on a consistent basis, you should seek help. Ask your parents or another responsible adult if they can arrange for you to receive a clinical assessment.
Even if a mental health professional administers a formal assessment and ends up ruling out depression, they might still recommend counseling. You might be suffering from a different mental health issue altogether (such as anxiety). Or you might just need some emotional help to get through this chapter of your life. Sometimes, they might recommend that you visit your pediatrician to rule out any physical health issues.
However, it’s helpful to know that a teen doesn’t need a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, or any other mood or personality disorder in order to get mental health support and treatment. Any teen, at any time, can get mental health support if they feel like they can benefit from it.