What is Teen Depression?
Teen depression is a serious mental health issue that affects many young people in the United States today. It is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest or pleasure in activities that used to bring your teen joy. Unlike temporary feelings of sadness, depression is not always tied to a specific event and can last for months or years, making it difficult to manage without professional help.
The CDC reports that among adolescents aged 12-17 years:
- 15.1% had a major depressive episode in the last year.
- 36.7% had persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.
- 18.8% seriously considered attempting suicide.
- 15.7% made a suicide plan.
- 8.9% attempted suicide.
- 2.5% made a suicide attempt requiring medical treatment.
And depression doesn't only affect teens, it affects everyone in your family. However, research has shown that depression treatment is VERY EFFECTIVE in helping teens and their families overcome and recover from depression.
Physical Symptoms of Depression in Teens:
- Changes in appetite and weight: Teens with depression may experience changes in their eating habits, leading to weight loss or weight gain.
- Sleep disturbances: Teens with depression may have trouble sleeping, such as trouble falling asleep, waking up frequently during the night, or sleeping too much.
- Fatigue and low energy: Teens with depression may feel tired and have low energy, making it difficult for them to participate in normal activities.
- Aches and pains: Teens with depression may experience physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach aches, or muscle pain, without a clear medical cause.
- Slowed movements and speech: Teens with depression may have trouble moving or speaking as quickly or as efficiently as they used to.
Emotional Symptoms of Teen Depression:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and emptiness: Teens with depression may feel sad, hopeless, and empty for extended periods, even when there is no apparent reason.
- Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy: Teens with depression may lose interest in activities that they once enjoyed and may have difficulty finding pleasure in life.
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt: Teens with depression may feel worthless, guilty, or inadequate, even when there is no clear reason for these feelings.
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions: Teens with depression may have trouble focusing, paying attention, or making decisions.
- Irritability or anger: Teens with depression may become easily irritated or angry, even over minor issues.
- Anxiety or worry: Teens with depression may experience anxiety or worry, even when there is no clear cause.
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm: Teens with depression may have thoughts of suicide or may engage in self-harm behaviors.
- Crying spells or tearfulness: Teens with depression may cry frequently or feel tearful for extended periods, even when there is no apparent reason.
- Feeling numb: Teens with depression may feel emotionally numb, detached from their feelings and unable to connect with others.
- Sensitivity toward being rejected or failing: Teens with depression may be extremely sensitive to rejection or failure and may have trouble handling disappointment or setbacks.
- Overly apologetic: Teens with depression may feel the need to apologize excessively, even when they have done nothing wrong.
- Perfectionism: Teens with depression may become excessively perfectionistic and may have trouble accepting even minor flaws or mistakes.
- Change or shift in personality: Teens with depression may experience a shift in their personality and may seem like a different person than they used to be.
- Wearing a happy mask or having "smiling depression": Teens with depression may put on a happy face and pretend that everything is fine outside the home, even though they're struggling on the inside.
- Forgetfulness: Teens with depression may have trouble remembering things and may have difficulty concentrating.
- Extremely low tolerance for discomfort: Teens with depression may have an extremely low tolerance for discomfort and may become overwhelmed by even minor stressors.
Exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism: Teens with depression may be overly self-critical, blaming themselves for everything that goes wrong, even when it's not their fault.
- Poor future outlook: Teens with depression may have a pessimistic outlook on the future and feel as though things will never get better.
- Excessive worrying or rumination: Teens with depression may spend excessive amounts of time worrying or ruminating over negative thoughts and experiences.
Behavioral Signs of Depression in Teenagers
- Withdrawal from friends and family: Teens with depression may withdraw from social activities and avoid spending time with friends and family.
- Changes in school performance: Teens with depression may have trouble focusing in school, may refuse to go to school, and may experience a decline in their grades.
- Aggressive or defiant behavior: Teens with depression may become defiant, aggressive, or engage in other disruptive behaviors.
- Self-harm: Teens with depression may engage in self-harm behaviors, such as cutting or burning themselves.
- Engaging in risky behaviors: Teens with depression may engage in risky behaviors, such as reckless driving or unprotected sex, in an attempt to alleviate their feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
- Agitation or restlessness: Teens with depression may exhibit signs of restlessness or agitation, such as pacing, fidgeting, or being unable to sit still.
- Decreased self-care and attention to personal hygiene or appearance: Teens with depression may neglect their personal hygiene and appearance and may not take care of themselves as they used to.
- Technology overuse: Teens with depression may spend excessive amounts of time using technology, such as playing video games, watching videos, or using social media, in an attempt to escape from their feelings.
- Significant change of friend group: Teens with depression may experience a significant change in their friend group and may have trouble connecting with others.
It's important to remember that these symptoms can vary from person to person, and not everyone with depression will experience all of these symptoms. It's important to remember that these symptoms can also be indicative of other physical or mental health conditions, so it's best to a mental health professional who specializes in teen depression. If you're concerned about your teen's mental health, please seek a professional evaluation.
Types of Depression in Teens
Depression is not a one-size-fits-all condition, and understanding the different types of depression can help teens get the tailored support they need to overcome their struggles.
Here are the most common types of depression in teens:
- Major depressive disorder: This is a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities that the individual used to enjoy. It can also include symptoms such as changes in appetite, sleep patterns, and energy levels.
- Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia): This type of depression is characterized by a persistent, low-level depression that lasts for at least two years.
- Bipolar disorder: This is a condition in which a person experiences episodes of both mania and depression. In teens, this condition can often be misdiagnosed as just depression.
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD): This is a type of depression that occurs at the same time each year, usually in the fall or winter.
- Atypical depression: This type of depression is characterized by symptoms such as increased appetite, excessive sleepiness, and sensitivity to rejection.
- Situational depression: This type of depression is caused by a specific event or situation, such as the death of a loved one, a breakup, or a significant change in one's life.
- Treatment-resistant depression: This is a type of depression that does not respond to standard treatments, such as therapy or medication.
- Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD): This is a severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that can cause depression, irritability, and other symptoms in the week or two before a woman's menstrual period.
It's important to note that depression can also be a symptom of other mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders or eating disorders. Additionally, some teens may experience depression as a result of physical health problems or life events like the death of a loved one, a move, or a breakup.
Signs Your Teen May Need Depression Treatment:
- Isolating From Peers or Family
- Codependency/Unhealthy Relationships
- Difficulties with School
- Difficulty in Parent or Sibling Relationships
- Overuse of Technology or Social Media
- Victim of Bullying or Another Traumatic Event
- Suicidal Thoughts or Self-harm
- Non-responsive to Outpatient Therapy
- Recommendations from Mental Health Professionals
Causes of Depression in Teens
The source of depression and mental illness is still unknown, though various factors have been identified as contributing to its occurrence. Some factors that can contribute to depression in teenagers include:
- Biological & genetic factors: Depression may be caused by imbalances in neurotransmitters, the chemicals in the brain that regulate mood. It may also run in families, suggesting a genetic component to the condition.
- Psychological factors: co-occurring mental health conditions like ADHD and anxiety, as well as factors like low self-esteem, negative thinking patterns, or experiencing a traumatic life event, can all contribute to depression in teenagers.
- Environmental factors: Poor sleep, lack of physical exercise, and a diet that is high in processed foods and low in nutrients can all contribute to the development of depression. Also, living in a high-stress environment or experiencing major life changes, such as a death in the family, can increase the risk of depression in teens.
- Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as a thyroid disorder or chronic pain, can contribute to depression.
It's important to note that depression is often caused by a combination of these factors and that every individual's experience with depression is unique.
Current Research on the Causes of Depression:
To further our understanding of what causes depression and mental illness, research is currently exploring the following fronts (among others):
- Inflammation - Inflammation has been linked to depression as a possible contributing factor. Chronic inflammation can cause elevated levels of inflammation markers in people with depression, which can be improved with anti-inflammatory medications. This suggests that inflammation may play a role in depression by altering neurotransmitter levels and disrupting brain regions that regulate mood. However, depression treatment often requires addressing both biological and psychological factors, and more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between inflammation and depression.
- Nutrition - a diet that is high in processed foods and low in nutrients can contribute to the development of depression. For example, low levels of vitamins and minerals, such as folate, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids, have been linked to depression, and a diet that is high in sugar and unhealthy fats has been shown to worsen symptoms of depression.
- Gut Microbiome - The gut microbiome is the community of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract, and research suggests that these microorganisms may have a significant impact on both physical and mental health. Studies have shown that people with depression often have imbalances in their gut microbiome and that changes in the gut microbiome can lead to changes in neurotransmitter levels, inflammation, and other physiological processes that can affect mood.
- Metabolism - mitochondria are the energy-producing structures in our cells, and research suggests that impairments in mitochondrial function may contribute to the development of depression and other mood disorders. Studies have shown that teenagers with depression often have impairments in mitochondrial function and energy metabolism and that treatments aimed at improving mitochondrial function can improve symptoms of depression.
While more research is needed to fully understand the relationship between these factors and depression, these findings highlight the importance of considering a holistic approach to depression treatment that considers both biological and environmental factors, including dietary and lifestyle changes
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of depression, it's important to seek help from a mental health professional, as early treatment can lead to a better outcome.
Importance of Early Intervention for Teen Depression
Depression can have a profound impact on the lives of teens, affecting their mental health, daily functioning, and overall well-being. However, there is good news: early intervention can make a significant difference. By addressing depression as soon as possible, teens can receive the support they need to manage their symptoms, reduce the impact of depression on their lives, and reap a range of benefits.
Early intervention for teen depression can provide numerous benefits, including:
- Improved Outcome: Early treatment can lead to a more favorable outcome and a quicker recovery. Research shows that early intervention can help prevent teen depression from becoming a chronic condition.
- Better Mental Health: Early treatment can help improve overall mental health, reduce symptoms, and prevent future episodes of depression.
- Improved Functioning: Early intervention can help improve functioning in daily life, including in school, at home, and in relationships with friends and family.
- Increased Coping Skills: Early intervention can provide teens with the tools and coping skills they need to manage their depression, reducing the impact of depression on their daily life.
- Improved Quality of Life: By reducing symptoms and improving overall mental health, early intervention can greatly improve the quality of life for teens with depression.
Early recognition and treatment can help teens get the support they need to manage their depression and improve their overall well-being. By addressing depression early, teens can learn healthy coping skills and avoid the negative impact that depression can have on their lives.
Not Seeking Depression Treatment Can Be Harmful The Effects of Untreated Depression on Teens
Untreated depression can have serious and long-lasting effects on a teenager's life and their family. Some of the key effects include:
- Academic struggles: Depression can make it difficult for teens to concentrate and do well in school, leading to poor grades and a decrease in their motivation to attend classes. In the long term it can affect academic and career opportunities.
- Social isolation: Teens with depression may struggle to form and maintain relationships, which can cause them to feel lonely and isolated.
- Strained relationships: Depression can cause teens to become irritable, argumentative, and withdrawn, leading to conflicts with family and friends.
In addition to affecting the individual, untreated depression can also take a toll on the family. Family members may become frustrated and overwhelmed by the changes they see in their loved one and the impact the depression has on their own lives. The stress and strain on relationships can cause further emotional harm and strain to everyone involved.
Untreated depression can also have a significant impact on identity development in teenagers. The teenage years are a critical time for young people as they work to understand who they are and what they want to be. Depression can disrupt this process by affecting the way a teen perceives themselves and the world around them.
Without proper treatment, depression can lead to a negative self-image, low self-esteem, and a sense of hopelessness. These feelings can cause a teenager to disengage from activities and relationships that were once important to them, and cause them to feel isolated and disconnected from the world around them.
Moreover, untreated depression can affect the way a teenager perceives their future and their goals. They may feel as though their future is limited or that they cannot achieve their dreams. This can have a negative impact on motivation and aspirations, and make it more challenging for the teenager to envision a positive future for themselves.
Early Intervention Is Important For Depression Recovery
Early intervention and treatment can greatly benefit families of teens struggling with depression by providing the tools, resources, and support necessary for the teen to effectively process their feelings and emotions, and manage their depression. Providing a safe and supportive environment for the teen to heal can also improve family dynamics and strengthen family bonds.
Early intervention also helps parents and families learn coping skills and healthy ways to manage their own emotions, which can lead to better mental health outcomes in the future. By addressing teen depression early on, families can build resilience and learn to navigate life's challenges together in a healthy and effective way, promoting positive outcomes and reducing the impact of this serious problem.
Teen Depression Treatment: What Are Your Options?
There are several treatment options available to parents of teens struggling with depression:
- Outpatient therapy: This type of therapy involves regular sessions with a mental health professional, typically once a week or more.
- Day treatment: Day treatment programs provide intensive therapy and support for teens but allow them to return home at night.
- Inpatient treatment: Inpatient treatment involves hospitalization for a period of time, typically 1-2 weeks, and provides 24/7 supervision and care.
- Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment: Residential treatment programs provide round-the-clock care in a therapeutic and structured environment. A nature-based treatment center combines traditional therapy with outdoor activities, such as hiking and camping, and can be a highly effective form of treatment for teens struggling with depression.
The type of depression treatment that is most appropriate for a teen will depend on the severity of their symptoms, their underlying mental health conditions, and other factors. It is important to consult with a mental health professional to determine the best course of action.
Why Choose Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment?
If your teenager is struggling with depression, you may be searching for a way to help them heal and move forward. At ThreePeaks residential treatment program, we understand the unique challenges that come with healing from depression and we have developed a specialized program to address the specific needs of depressed teens.
Our short-term program combines traditional talk therapy with the healing power of nature to provide a holistic approach to healing. Our program is led by experienced therapists who specialize in helping depressed teens and our team is dedicated to providing individualized care to each of our clients.
During the program, your teenager will take part in activities such as hiking and camping as they work through their depression with their therapist. The simplified setting provides a unique opportunity for teens to disconnect from the distractions of daily life and focus on their healing. The natural environment serves as a metaphor for the journey of healing, and the challenges faced in treatment can be applied to the challenges faced in everyday life.
One of the biggest benefits of our program is that it is designed to help teens take ownership of their healing process and develop the skills they need to continue to heal after the program is over. Our program is designed to be a stepping stone for lasting recovery and not a crutch for ongoing dependence.
We understand that choosing a treatment program for your teenager is a difficult decision and we are here to support you every step of the way. Our team is available to answer any questions you may have and to provide additional information about our program. We believe that with the right support, your teenager can heal and move forward to lead a happy and fulfilling life. Contact us today to see how we can help your family.
Benefits of a Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment Program
Being immersed in nature can have a profound impact on a teenager. It improves their mental, emotional, and physical health. Combined with a proven clinical approach, a therapeutic experience helps teens heal from depression. Here are specific benefits your family can expect to see while your teen is in nature-based short-term residential treatment.
The first stage of effective short-term residential treatment focuses on assessment and stabilization.
By observing your teen in a novel environment, our experienced therapists gain a deep understanding of what is really happening with your child. Research indicates accurate mental health assessments can lead to a 20% reduction in the number of days in treatment.
Mental health stabilization provides a safe environment to deescalate your teen’s level of distress and/or reduce their acute symptoms of mental illness. Until teens feel genuinely safe, they cannot begin to heal. One therapeutic modality emphasizes that “Cues of safety are the treatment” and “safety is defined by feeling safe and not simply by the removal of threat.” It is not enough to merely tell a teen in crisis that they are mentally and emotionally safe, they must actually feel and believe it.
Once your teen feels safe, our nature-based residential treatment program provides a novel and challenging environment that disrupts their unhealthy patterns and behaviors. Behaviors that either:
- cause your teen's mental & emotional health struggles
- or that your teen has developed as a negative way of coping with their struggles.
The second stage of an effective residential treatment program focuses on engaging teens in the therapeutic process and empowering them with the skills needed to thrive.
1. Engaging Teens in Therapy (even if they’ve been resistant to it before)
The ThreePeaks Ascent treatment program is designed to re-engage teens in healthy adolescent development. When your teen attends a short-term residential program, they are taken away from negative distractions they may have at home. They engage in treatment in a way that would not be possible in any other setting.
Your teen will participate in individual, group, and family therapy sessions while in treatment. This allows them to process their behavior as well as make changes in their personal life and family relationships. They are also able to learn from their peers, realize they are not alone in their struggles, and gain motivation to make changes.
We've found that by the time of discharge, 90% of teens were actively engaged in treatment. When contacted six months after treatment, most of these teens maintained the motivational progress they made during treatment.
2. Empowering Teens Through Skill Development
As your teen engages in the therapeutic process, they’ll start to see huge progress. But for long-term healing, it is not enough to only alleviate your teen’s struggles, we must also empower them with the skills needed to thrive in life. These skills include:
- Self-awareness skills like a growth mindset, identifying one's feelings, developing interests & sense of purpose
- Self-management skills like emotional regulation, self-motivation, resilience, setting & achieving goals, planning & time management
- Responsible decision-making skills like showing curiosity & open-mindedness, anticipating & evaluating the consequences of one’s actions, internal locus of control
- Relationship skills like communicating effectively, seeking & offering support, resolving conflicts constructively
- Social awareness skills like showing empathy & compassion for others, taking others’ perspective, recognizing strengths in others
Your teen is powerful, intelligent, and capable. They are among the leaders of tomorrow. That is why the third stage of our short-term residential treatment program focuses on helping teens redirect their previously misused potential toward developing mastery in life.
Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche observed years ago, “Happiness is the feeling that power is increasing—that resistance is being overcome.” When teens develop competence and mastery they:
- gain self-reliance and self-confidence
- become more resilient
- have a greater sense of meaning and purpose
- and better resist negative emotions.
Overall, building mastery helps teens develop a positive mindset. Because they feel competent and in control, they go from feeling, “I’m not capable” to “I can do this!”
Additional References & Mental Health Resources
- Anxiety and depression in children: Get the facts - CDC
- Depression in Teens - Mental Health America
- The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time
- The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative
- Brain Energy: A Revolutionary Breakthrough in Understanding Mental Health--and Improving Treatment for Anxiety, Depression, OCD, PTSD, and More
About the Author
Steven DeMille, Ph.D. LCMHC
Steven DeMille is the Executive Director of ThreePeaks Ascent. He is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. His educational experience includes an MA in Mental Health Counseling and a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. His research focus is on Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment, nature, adolescent development, and counseling ethics. He is actively involved in the counseling and psychology profession and holds regional and national leadership positions. He publishes and presents on Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment and the use of the outdoors. This is done around the world at the national and international conference levels.
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