Take teen depression symptoms seriously
By Jeanne MIllsap For Sun-Times Media January 29, 2013 1:48PM
Presence Medical Group Pediatrician, Dr. Heather Decker. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Updated: March 2, 2013 6:46AM
Do you know a teenager who seems moody? Withdrawn? Who seems to have a lack of enthusiasm or energy?
These descriptions may seem as if they depict all teens, but don’t be too quick to write it off. Many adolescents experience significant depression, and some — more than you’d think — seriously contemplate suicide.
According to the recently released 2012 Illinois Youth Survey for the Illinois Department of Human Services, about one-third of students in tenth grade in Will, Grundy and Kendall county high schools experienced such a sadness for two weeks or more that they stopped doing some of their usual activities — one of the classic symptoms of clinical depression.
Around 15 percent of them seriously considered suicide in a 12-month period.
“Those numbers don’t surprise me very much,” said Dr. Heather Decker, a Presence Medical Group pediatrician who has a special interest in adolescent medicine.
“People tend to write off the symptoms of depression as occasional mood swings or that they are going through a phase ... The symptoms of depression also can be different in teens than in adults, such as irritability, hostility or anxiety. Sometimes those symptoms are written off as just hormones.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains depression is categorized as a depressed or sad mood, with diminished interest in activities that used to be pleasurable, weight gain or loss, psychomotor agitation or retardation, fatigue, inappropriate guilt, difficulties concentrating, as well as recurrent thoughts of death.
The most common mental health disorder among adolescents is depression.
And, according to Decker, since teens don’t always have the best communication skills, it can be difficult for them to tell others what they are going through or even to identify those feelings.
“That’s why it’s so important for the rest of us to know the signs,” Decker said.
Other signs of depression in teens include irritability, outbursts of anger, violence, extreme sensitivity of feelings, major mood swings over small issues, withdrawal from friends or family, changes in sleeping and eating habits, and unexplained aches and pains.
Teens at risk for depression include those with a family history of it. Outside influences also can lead to depression, Decker said. Those can include anything that negatively affects self-esteem, such as obesity, bullying, peer problems and poor academic performance.
Other conditions that can lead to depression include anxiety, asthma, alcohol consumption, drug use and stress.
The combination of a genetic predisposition, stressful events and poor self-esteem is particularly dangerous for teenagers, Decker said.
Identification of depression in teens is important. According to the CDC, adolescents with unidentified mental disorders are in poorer physical health and engage in more risky behaviors than their peers, such as unsafe sexual activity and fighting.
These youths are also at the highest risk for committing suicide.
Also, if it’s not effectively treated, depression is likely to lapse into a chronic disease. Just experiencing one episode of depression places a person at a 50 percent risk for experiencing another.
Decker said if a parent or adult suspects a teen is going through a depression, take them to their physician who will screen them. The doctor may want to talk to them alone. Do take it seriously, she said. Don’t trivialize it.
“Parents, trust your instincts,” she said.
Decker also recommends the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at (800) 273-8255. Calls to the lifeline are anonymous, she said.