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What is Depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that is characterized by feelings of long-term sadness that affects the whole person: emotionally, physically, socially, and psychologically. The depressed individual often feels hopeless, worthless, and unable to enjoy the things in life they once did. Left untreated, depression can hinder one’s ability to carry out everyday tasks.
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What Causes Depression?
When teens go through puberty, there is a plethora of changes occurring in the mind and body. Sex hormones are raging, they are faced with pressures to fit in, and they may be questioning their identity and sexual orientation. For many teens, entering adulthood is a time of wonder and excitement about their futures. But for some, they may be unprepared for the changes that are taking place.
There are two major categories in which we find the underlying causes of depression. They are as follows:
Biological: Hormones are the big factor here. A teen is experiencing a lot of physiological changes. Their bodies are becoming more adult like, but psychologically they are still immature and may be unable to deal with the changes that puberty brings. Another biological influence is genetics; often times depression can be inherited from blood relatives. It is not uncommon to see depression and other mood disorders run in the family.
Environmental: The events that take place in a teen's life can, and most likely will, have a direct impact on their emotional state. The loss of a loved one, sexual or physical abuse, a break-up with a partner, domestic problems, or being bullied at school are just a few examples that can cause a teen to become depressed. Normally, the sadness that is felt during these times is temporary and does not warrant intervention.
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Signs of Depression in Teenage Girls
The following list includes the most common signs of depression in teenage girls:
- Prolonged sadness
- Change in sleep patterns: depressed teens often find it hard to fall asleep. This can have a major impact on their performance at school and cause their grades to drop.
- Significant changes in appetite and weight: overeating is common in depression. Food is just one way a depressed person tries to “self-medicate" to fill the emptiness they feel. In contrast, some people will hardly eat at all causing them to lose weight and possibly jeopardizing their health.
- Withdrawal from family, friends and social activities
- Poor school performance: falling grades are a red flag. Depression can make the student feel inadequate and hopeless, leading them to feel as though there is no point in even trying to attain an education.
- Changes in behavior (i.e. “acting out" or other disciplinary problems): a parent knows their teen; if they start behaving in ways that are contradictory to their character, then there is something going on that needs to be addressed. Because a depressed teen has an array of negative emotions, they see little reason to abide by the rules. Indeed, they very well may be acting out to get attention.
- Drug and/or alcohol abuse: like food, drugs and alcohol, and even sex, can be abused in an attempt to fill a void. Substance abuse is also a way to try to numb their pain and escape from reality.
- Fatigue: a teen should not feel tired all of the time. Chronic fatigue is a sign of depression or some other health problem.
- Frequent complaints of not feeling well (i.e. headaches, body aches, illnesses): this is so common among depressed teens. Depression does not just affect a person’s mood, it affects the whole person. Frequent body aches and other aliments can be an indicator that they are depressed, but just as with chronic fatigue, they can be the result of another health problem.
- Anger and/or irritability: if a teen suddenly starts to display bouts of anger, then they may be dealing with something that they do not know how to communicate. Just like babies who cry when they hungry or need a diaper change, so do teens become irritable when something is amiss.
- Developing a pessimistic attitude: with no hope for a future, it is common for a depressed teen to become apathetic and act as though they do not care about the world around them.
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Self-mutilation (i.e. cutting or skin picking): cutting is a desperate cry for help. There are many reasons why a teen might cut him or herself, such as to get attention, to relieve stress, or because they feel they need to punish themselves. Cutting also releases endorphins and can bring a temporary feeling of comfort. Many depressed teens feel numb, and cut themselves in an attempt to “feel."
- Talk and/or thoughts of suicide: it is impossible to know the thoughts that are going through a teen’s head, but there are other signs that there may be suicidal tendencies. Many of these signs have been mentioned, however there a few more that should be included. These include giving away possessions, saying good-bye to family and friends and family, and excessively talking about death.
Everyone will exhibit some signs of depression at some point in their lives. For this reason, it is important for parents to know the difference between depression and the occasional bout of sadness or blues. Monitoring these symptoms will enable the parent to seek help if needed.
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Medline Plus. Adolescent depression. www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001518.htm
PsychCentral. Teenage Depression. http://psychcentral.com/lib/2007/teenage-depression/2/
Teen Depression - Statistics, Prevention, Facts on Teenage Depression. http://www.teendepression.org/stats/teenage-depression-statistics/