If you’re a teen, it’s normal to have days when you’re feeling down. The everyday stresses of school, parents, friends, social media, exams, extracurricular activities, and more—they’re real. They loom large. And they can occasionally cause you to break down crying, make you want to lock yourself in your room and sleep the day away, or plug in earphones and ignore everyone and everything.
But while it’s normal to be sad every now and then, the question you need to ask yourself right now is:
How long have I been feeling sad?
You might be sad all the time because you have depression.
In the U.S., the most prevalent mental health disorder in adolescents is depression. Approximately 1 in 20 teens is currently experiencing a bout of major depression. For many, depression can be triggered by a major event. For example, if you just experienced the death of a loved one, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or any other major disappointment, it’s normal to feel sad. But this sadness should not persist forever.
So when does regular sadness become depression?
According to the DSM-5: when your sadness has lasted longer than two weeks, and/or when you’ve lost interest in many things you used to like.
Symptoms of Depression in Teens
If you’ve been experiencing five or more of the following symptoms for at least two weeks (and one of the five symptoms are A or B), 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.*
*Note: If you are considering suicide, please stop reading this and call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room. Or, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Or, you might be sad all the time because you have a physical condition.
It’s important to know that symptoms of some medical conditions can look like the symptoms of depression. For example, low thyroid levels (hypothyroidism) can make you tired all the time, with a loss of energy. Being vitamin deficient can also cause you to feel this way. A brain tumor can also be the culprit. For these reasons, many doctors will ask you to get a blood test to see if you have any of these medical issues before diagnosing you with depression.
Nope, I think I have depression. What do I do?
If you think you might be depressed, the first step is to talk to someone. If you’re cool with talking to your parents, that would be most ideal. But really, any adult who could help is fine, whether it’s your parents, a teacher, school counselor, or even your best friend’s parents. If you think a friend or classmate might be able to empathize with you, share this article with them. Sometimes the hardest part is admitting you need help to someone else.
Hopefully, whoever you speak to will encourage you to seek treatment from a mental health professional. We’d recommend talking to a mental health professional who specializes in treating teens – a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. If they do diagnose you with clinical depression, know that this mental health issue is highly treatable.
What can help depression?
There are a number of things that can help you overcome depression:
Talk Therapy: Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) have been proven by research to alleviate the symptoms of depression. Read more about how DBT treats depression here.
Anti-depressant Medication: A psychiatrist or doctor may prescribe medication in conjunction with therapy. FDA-approved antidepressants, when followed consistently, have been shown to treat depression—though many come with risks of side-effects.
Mental Health Treatment Center: If your depression is severe, you might need more than 1:1 therapy. One option might be a teen mental health rehab center that specializes in treating teens with depression. Depending on the level of your clinical acuity, you might consider intensive outpatient treatment (IOP), partial hospitalization (PHP), or a residential treatment center (RTC).