The Race to Good Health

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Adolescent Depression: Symptoms and Solutions

Understanding depression in African American youth.

Everyone occasionally feels blue or sad. But these feelings are usually short-lived and pass within a couple of days. When you have depression, it interferes with daily life and causes pain for both you and those who care about you. Depression is a common but serious illness. Research has consistently shown that symptoms of depression are a key risk factor for suicide-related behaviors. According to the CDC (2011) High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data approximately 8.3 percent of African American teens compared to 6.2 percent of Whites attempt suicide.

Although depression can be treated, many often do not receive care for a variety of reasons. However, depression can be treated and even those with the most severe depression, can get better with treatment (such as medications, therapy, and other methods).

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The DSM-5 (APA, 2013), which is used to diagnose psychiatric disorders, describes several forms of depressive disorders. Depressive disorders include: major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and minor depression.

  1. Major depressive disorder, or major depression, is characterized by a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person's ability to work, sleep, study, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities. Major depression is disabling and prevents a person from functioning normally. Some people may experience only a single episode within their lifetime, but more often a person may have multiple episodes.
  2. Dysthymic disorder, or dysthymia, is characterized by long-term (2 years or longer) symptoms that may not be severe enough to disable a person but can prevent normal functioning or feeling well. People with dysthymia may also experience one or more episodes of major depression during their lifetimes.
  3. Minor depression is characterized by having symptoms for 2 weeks or longer that do not meet full criteria for major depression. Without treatment, people with minor depression are at high risk for developing major depressive disorder. 

Signs of Depression

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.

How do children and teens experience depression?

Children who develop depression often continue to have episodes as they enter adulthood. Children who have depression also are more likely to have other more severe illnesses in adulthood.

A child with depression may pretend to be sick, refuse to go to school, cling to a parent, or worry that a parent may die. Older children may sulk, get into trouble at school, be negative and irritable, and feel misunderstood. Because these signs may be viewed as normal mood swings typical of children as they move through developmental stages, it may be difficult to accurately diagnose a young person with depression.

Before puberty, boys and girls are equally likely to develop depression. By age 15, however, girls are twice as likely as boys to have had a major depressive episode.

Depression during the teen years comes at a time of great personal change—when boys and girls are forming an identity apart from their parents, grappling with gender issues and emerging sexuality, and making independent decisions for the first time in their lives. Depression in adolescence frequently co-occurs with other disorders such as anxiety, eating disorders, or substance abuse. It can also lead to increased risk for suicide. Childhood depression often persists, recurs, and continues into adulthood, especially if left untreated.

How can I help a loved one who is depressed?

If you know someone who is depressed, it affects you too. The most important thing you can do is help your friend or relative get a diagnosis and treatment. You may need to make an appointment and go with him or her to see the doctor. Encourage your loved one to stay in treatment, or to seek different treatment if no improvement occurs after 6 to 8 weeks.

To help your friend or relative

  • Offer emotional support, understanding, patience, and encouragement.
  • Talk to him or her, and listen carefully.
  • Never dismiss feelings, but point out realities and offer hope.
  • Never ignore comments about suicide, and report them to your loved one's therapist or doctor.
  • Invite your loved one out for walks, outings and other activities. Keep trying if he or she declines, but don't push him or her to take on too much too soon.
  • Provide assistance in getting to the doctor's appointments.
  • Remind your loved one that with time and treatment, the depression will lift. 

The following resources maybe helpful to you and your family to locate services:

 

 

Follow me on Twitter @DrEarlTurner for daily post on psychology, mental health, and parenting. Feel free to join my Facebook group, “Get Psych’d with Dr. T” to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting.

Copyright Erlanger A. Turner, Ph.D. 2014

   

References:

American Psychiatric Association (APA, 2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2012). High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. Retrieved April 4, 2014 from http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline 

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH, 2014). Depression. Retrieved April 2014 from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

Erlanger Turner, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown in the Department of Social Sciences and a Clinical Psychologist.

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