Understanding Teen Depression

Patient Expert

The other day my daughter asked me what I was going to write next. I told her that I had no idea, that I'd actually written everything I had to say about depression.

Horse-pucky, she said, using a wonderful family euphemism.   You have lots more to say about depression.

Okay, I asked, What?

Well, she said, What about all those years when you didn't know you were depressed. You didn't know the word.

She's right. There were all those teen-age years when depression wasn't something anyone around us talked about. It wasn't even in the dialogue.

But was I irritable and frightened and did I sleep a lot during the afternoons - when the boarding-school teachers let me? Darn tootin' I did. Of course, I didn't tell anyone I was frightened or angry. That would not have been teen-age behavior.

Did teachers notice I was frightened or angry? Apparently not. They saw me as difficult sometimes; as "not present." Many people know by now that the symptoms for teen depression often do not include sadness, that ever-present feeling of heaviness that adults get. And teens certainly don't talk about sadness if they do feel it. It wouldn't be cool.

Teens may be agitated, or lose interest in their work and play activities.

The danger of not noticing teen depression is that it can lead a young person to drinking, or to drugs, or to dropping-out.

So, how do you get sensitized to teen depression?

Be aware that it's often different from adult depression.

Don't say, "Oh, she's just behaving like a teenager," and neglect the concept of evaluation. If a teen is behaving differently than before, especially if he or she is rageful or starting to lose motivation, get the teen to a psychologist.

Make sure that school officials keep an eye open for the danger signs of depression.

One of the good things to come out of the spate of teen suicides some 15 years ago - which, thankfully, has not turned into a growing trend - was an effort to determine what might prevent depression. Treatment is good, but prevention is better.

Christopher Lukas has a book coming out in September from Doubleday: BLUE GENES is about his family, which suffered from bipolar disorder and depression for generations. He is a survivor in a family in which there were many suicides. You can read about the book and see a short video here.