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Adolescent Depression: An Elusive Diagnosis

Updated: Jun 28, 2020

By Claire Yuan, Copy Editor

Graphic by Elaine Zhang, Graphics Editor

Sadness is a common emotion experienced by people of all ages and backgrounds, but as with all things, sadness should be served in moderation. Depression, a common but serious mood disorder, occurs when a person suffers from prolonged periods of depressed moods, such as sadness and irritability.

But for some age groups, depression can hit harder than for others. According to the The National Alliance on Mental Illness, “21.4% of [youth] ages 13 to 18 experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their life” and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “17% of high school students have seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months.”

The reasons behind these rather shocking statistics are not as surprising. Kids often face a lot of stress due to physical and mental changes during their adolescent years. However, it can be difficult for adults to determine whether their child’s stress is a natural part of puberty, or if it’s a sign of depression and indicates a need for professional help.

Medically speaking, depression works the same way for teens as for adults. Although depression symptoms vary in intensity, people afflicted with depression typically experience a set of behavioral and emotional changes. When teenagers experience depression, it may start off as feelings of sadness and loneliness, but these teens will likely transition into being irritable and prone to crying, disinterested in once-pleasurable activities, and increasingly fatigued. They may also have an increased appetite, develop suicidal thoughts, withdraw from their friends and family, and have worsened performance in school.

If adolescent depression is so similar to adult depression, then why is it so hard to recognize? Well, on paper, these signs may seem obvious, but most of them could easily be mistaken for normal changes of adolescent years. During high school, students begin to face more stressful workloads, switch around their friend groups, and have increasingly rebellious attitudes toward authority figures. Parents, doctors, and teachers alike even expect teenagers to go through various ups and downs throughout puberty and their adolescent years.

How can we draw the line between normal emotional oscillation and depression? The Mayo Clinic recommends that adults talk to their teenager and try to figure out whether or not the teen can personally deal with what they are experiencing. Certain events can seem manageable for one teen, but be completely overwhelming for another; each individual needs to be approached in a unique manner. The connection between large amounts of stress and depression is not well-defined. Instead of seeing depression as a weakness or lack of willpower and forcing teens to “snap out of it,” parental figures should try their best to work with their children and reach a careful solution. This may require getting professional help before it is too late. These conversations can make the world a better place.


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