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Depression Is Common
Depression is very common and affects as many as 1 in 8 people in their teen years.
Depression affects people of every color, race, economic status, or age; however, it does
seem to affect more girls than guys.
How Do People Respond to Someone Who's Depressed?
Sometimes friends or family members recognize that someone is depressed. They may respond
with love, kindness, or support, hoping that the sadness will soon pass. They may offer to
listen if the person wants to talk. If the depressed feeling doesn't pass with a little
time, friends or loved ones may encourage the person to get help from a doctor, therapist,
But not everyone recognizes depression when it happens to someone they know.
Some people don't really understand about depression. For example, they may react to a
depressed person's low energy with criticism, yelling at the person for acting lazy or not
trying harder. Some people mistakenly believe that depression is just an attitude or a
mood that a person can shake off. It's not that easy.
Sometimes even people who are depressed don't take their condition seriously enough. Some
people feel that they are weak in some way because they are depressed. This is wrong —
and it can even be harmful if it causes people to hide their depression and avoid getting
Occasionally, when depression causes physical symptoms (things like headaches or other
stress-related problems), a person may see a doctor. Once in a while, even a well-meaning
doctor may not realize a person is depressed, and just treat the physical symptoms.
Why Do People Get Depressed?
There is no single cause for depression. Many factors play a role including genetics,
environment, life events, medical conditions, and the way people react to things that
happen in their lives.
Genetics. Research shows that depression runs in families and that some people
inherit genes that make it more likely for them to get depressed. Not everyone who has the
genetic makeup for depression gets depressed, though. And many people who have no family
history of depression have the condition. So although genes are one factor, they aren't
the single cause of depression.
Life Events. The death of a family member, friend, or pet can go beyond normal
grief and sometimes lead to depression. Other difficult life events, such as when parents
divorce, separate, or remarry, can trigger depression. Even events like moving or changing
schools can be emotionally challenging enough that a person becomes depressed.
Family and Social Environment. For some teens, a negative, stressful, or unhappy
family atmosphere can affect their self-esteem and lead to depression. This can also
include high-stress living situations such as poverty; homelessness; and violence in the
family, relationships, or community.
Substance use and abuse also can cause chemical changes in the brain that affect mood —
alcohol and some drugs are known to have depressant effects. The negative social and
personal consequences of substance abuse also can lead to severe unhappiness and
Medical Conditions. Certain medical conditions can affect hormone balance and
therefore have an effect on mood. Some conditions, such as hypothyroidism, are known to
cause a depressed mood in some people. When these medical conditions are diagnosed and
treated by a doctor, the depression usually disappears.
For some teens, undiagnosed learning disabilities might block school success, hormonal
changes might affect mood, or physical illness might present challenges or setbacks.
What Happens in the Brain When Someone Is Depressed?
Depression involves the brain's delicate chemistry — specifically, it involves chemicals
called neurotransmitters. These chemicals help send messages between nerve cells in the
brain. Certain neurotransmitters regulate mood, and if they run low, people can become
depressed, anxious, and stressed. Stress also can affect the balance of neurotransmitters
and lead to depression.
Sometimes, a person may experience depression without being able to point to any
particular sad or stressful event. People who have a genetic predisposition to depression
may be more prone to the imbalance of neurotransmitter activity that is part of
Medications that doctors use to treat depression work by helping to restore the proper
balance of neurotransmitters.
Types of Depression
For some people, depression can be intense and occur in bouts that last for weeks at a
time. For others, depression can be less severe but can linger at a low level for years.
Doctors who treat depression distinguish between these two types of depression. They call
the more severe, short-lasting type major depression, and the longer-lasting but less
severe form dysthymia (pronounced: diss-thy-me-uh).
A third form of depression that doctors may diagnose is called adjustment disorder with
depressed mood. This diagnosis refers to a depressive reaction to a specific life event
(such as a death, divorce, or other loss), when adjusting to the loss takes longer than
the normally expected time frame or is more severe than expected and interferes with the
person's daily activities.
Bipolar disorder (also sometimes called manic depressive illness) is another depressive
condition that involves periods of major depression mixed with periods of mania. Mania is
the term for abnormally high mood and extreme bursts of unusual activity or energy.
What Are the Symptoms of Depression?
Symptoms that people have when they're depressed can include:
depressed mood or sadness most of the time (for what may seem like no reason)
lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
inability to enjoy things that used to bring pleasure
withdrawal from friends and family
irritability, anger, or anxiety
inability to concentrate
significant weight loss or gain
significant change in sleep patterns (inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get up in
feelings of guilt or worthlessness
aches and pains (with no known medical cause)
pessimism and indifference (not caring about anything in the present or future)
thoughts of death or suicide
When someone has five or more of these symptoms most of the time for 2 weeks or longer,
that person is probably depressed.
Teens who are depressed may show other warning signs or symptoms, such as lack of interest
or motivation, poor concentration, and low mental energy caused by depression. They also
might have increased problems at school because of skipped classes.
Some teens with depression have other problems, too, and these can intensify feelings of
worthlessness or inner pain. For example, people who cut themselves or who have eating
disorders may have unrecognized depression that needs attention.
How Is Depression Different From Regular Sadness?
Everyone has some ups and downs, and sadness is a natural emotion. The normal stresses of
life can lead anyone to feel sad every once in a while. Things like an argument with a
friend, a breakup, doing poorly on a test, not being chosen for a team, or a best friend
moving out of town can lead to feelings of sadness, hurt, disappointment, or grief. These
reactions are usually brief and go away with a little time and care.
Depression is more than occasionally feeling blue, sad, or down in the dumps, though.
Depression is a strong mood involving sadness, discouragement, despair, or hopelessness
that lasts for weeks, months, or even longer. It interferes with a person's ability to
participate in normal activities.
Depression affects a person's thoughts, outlook, and behavior as well as mood. In addition
to a depressed mood, a person with depression can also feel tired, irritable, and notice
changes in appetite.
When someone has depression, it can cloud everything. The world looks bleak and the
person's thoughts reflect that hopelessness and helplessness. People with depression tend
to have negative and self-critical thoughts. Sometimes, despite their true value, people
with depression can feel worthless and unlovable.
Because of feelings of sadness and low energy, people with depression may pull away from
those around them or from activities they once enjoyed. This usually makes them feel more
lonely and isolated, making the depression and negative thinking worse.
Depression can be mild or severe. At its worst, depression can create such feelings of
despair that a person thinks about suicide.
Depression can cause physical symptoms, too. Some people have an upset stomach, loss of
appetite, weight gain or loss, headaches, and sleeping problems when they're depressed.
Depression is one of the most common emotional problems in the United States and around
the world. The good news is that it's also one of the most treatable conditions.
Therapists and other professionals can help. In fact, about 80% of people who get help for
their depression have a better quality of life — they feel better and enjoy themselves
in a way that they weren't able to before.
Treatment for depression can include talk therapy, medication, or a combination of both.
Talk therapy with a mental health professional is very effective in treating depression.
Therapy sessions can help people understand more about why they feel depressed, and ways
to combat it.
Sometimes, doctors prescribe medicine for a person who has depression. When prescribing
medicine, a doctor will carefully monitor patients to make sure they get the right dose.
The doctor will adjust the dose as necessary. It can take a few weeks before the person
feels the medicine working. Because every person's brain is different, what works well for
one person might not be good for another.
Everyone can benefit from mood-boosting activities like exercise, yoga, dance, journaling,
or art. It can also help to keep busy no matter how tired you feel.
People who are depressed shouldn't wait and hope it will go away on its own because
depression can be effectively treated. Friends or others need to step in if someone seems
severely depressed and isn't getting help.
Many people find that it helps to open up to parents or other adults they trust. Simply
saying, "I've been feeling really down lately and I think I'm depressed," can be a good
way to begin the discussion. Ask your parent to arrange an appointment with a therapist.
If a parent or family member can't help, turn to your school counselor, best friend, or a
helpline to get help.
When Depression Is Severe
People who are extremely depressed and who may be thinking about hurting themselves or
about suicide need help as soon as possible. When depression is this severe, it is a very
real medical emergency, and an adult must be notified. Most communities have suicide
hotlines where people can get guidance and support in an emergency.
Although it's important to be supportive, trying to cheer up a friend or reasoning with
him or her probably won't work to help depression or suicidal feelings go away. Depression
can be so strong that it outweighs a person's ability to respond to reason. Even if your
friend has asked you to promise not to tell, severe depression is a situation where
telling can save a life. The most important thing a depressed person can do is to get
help. If you or a friend feels unsafe or out of control, get help now. Tell a trusted
adult, call 911, or go to the emergency room.
Depression doesn't mean a person is "crazy." Depression (and the suffering that goes with
it) is a real and recognized medical problem. Just as things can go wrong in all other
organs of the body, things can go wrong in the most important organ of all: the brain.
Luckily, most teens who get help for their depression go on to enjoy life and feel better