Note: If you’re a parent or educator interested in information about children and depression, my Depression in Children page might be more helpful.
Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. Of course, it was over thirty years ago, but I still remember with painful clarity what it was like to be a teenager with depression. The sadness, the feeling of helplessness, the belief that it was part of my personality and the conviction that something was wrong. I just didn’t know what it was. At that time, in the late ’70s, no one really did. The medical community didn’t believe children, including teenagers, could suffer from depression. Fortunately, now things are different, to some extent. There still is a lot of misunderstanding about what clinical depression is, so many teens don’t get help, either because they don’t realize they have depression, or because it’s hard for them to get help.
How Does It Feel?
- You’re sad all the time, and/or you feel anxious or numb.
- You feel hopeless about everything.
- You feel guilty.
- You feel worthless.
- You have a lot of physical problems (stomachaches, headaches, chest pain) that don’t seem to have any cause.
- You feel irritable (everything and everyone annoys you).
- You have very little energy and you’re tired all the time.
- You feel restless and fidgety.
- You have difficulty concentrating on anything.
- You’re thinking about suicide or death a lot.
How It May Be Affecting Your Life
- Your grades have dropped.
- You’re sleeping a lot or having trouble sleeping.
- You’ve gained or lost weight.
- You don’t want to spend time with your friends anymore.
- You have no interest in things you used to like doing.
- You cry a lot for no particular reason.
How Do I Tell My Parents?
This is a tough one, and a question I get fairly often. First of all, let’s assume that your parents are loving, stable and have your best interests at heart. They may still unknowingly make it difficult for you to get help. They may say, “What do you have to be depressed about?” or tell you that your feelings will pass and are a normal part of being a teenager. There are two factors at work in this case. One is denial. No parent wants to think something is wrong with their child, especially something like mental illness which has so much stigma attached to it. They may feel guilty or deny what is happening because they feel helpless to take care of you, the way they used to be able to put a bandaid over a scraped knee. The second factor is lack of knowledge on their part. They are not alone in this – over 70% of adults surveyed believed that a depressed person just needed to pull himself/herself together. In this case, it’s not their fault that they don’t know enough about depression, and probably just need to be educated. Once you present them with some information, they will probably be eager to get help for you.
I know that you may not have parents like that. Let’s assume that your parents are self-involved or have their own problems like addiction or are abusive. In this case you’ll have to be strong and get help on your own. It’s hard that your parents can’t be there for you when you need them, but chances are that you’re used to taking care of yourself. If you have depression it’s very difficult to do anything positive, but you have to get help. You can’t let it ruin your life.
If your parents are in the first category, probably all you have to do is tell them that you have the signs of clinical depression, and you would like to get a complete physical by your family doctor and get the name of a psychiatrist. If you present them with information about depression and educate them, you can probably overcome their denial and objections fairly easily. They do want what’s best for you, and they probably have noticed a change in you.
If your parents are in the second category, you have two choices. One is to find a sympathetic adult who can convince your parents that you need help. This could be a school counselor, a favorite teacher, your priest or minister, or a friend’s parent. You can educate this person about depression if need be and ask them to talk to your parents.
If you can’t think of an adult who can help you, go directly to your family doctor and ask for a referral to a psychiatrist. If your family doctor is no help or there is a problem with insurance, find a local mental health clinic, suicide prevention center or crisis hot line. The most important thing is getting treatment; don’t let anything stand in your way.
Should I Tell My Friends?
This is also a tough question. You should realize that this might be something that separates your real, true friends from your not-so-true friends. Some people will be supportive and other people won’t, and will probably start avoiding you. But you might want to take negative reactions with a grain of salt. A friend may have a relative who has depression or another mental illness, and that could make it tough for them to be there for you. Or, they may have a sneaking suspicion that they’re having problems with their own emotional wellness, and having you confront yours makes them freak out. Don’t entirely shut the door on anyone; they may come around in time.
- Teen Advice – About.com
- Teen Moods
- Teens for Teens: Help Stop Teenage Depression
- Youth Suicide Prevention
- Adolescent Depression often Continues to Adulthood
- Curbing the Violence – WebMD
- Love Doesn’t Have to Hurt Teens
- My Friend is Talking About Suicide – What Should I Do?
- Teen Helps Peers with Depression
- What to Do If a Friend Has Depression
- Why Am I So Sad?