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More Than Sad: Teen Depression

Depression is a serious medical illness that is marked by feelings of profound sadness and a lack of interest in activities. While an adolescent child may experience a wide range of emotions and mood swings, depression is different. It is a persistent low mood that interferes with the child’s ability to function and experience pleasure, often impacting every aspect of the child’s life.

Depression has no racial, ethnic or socioeconomic boundaries. About two-thirds of those who experience an episode of depression will have at least one other episode in their lives. While depression can’t be cured, it can be managed, most often through medication and therapy. New treatments such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) also are proving to be effective. Adolescent children diagnosed with depression can learn to recognize symptoms and adopt healthy habits that can provide positive benefits throughout their lifetime.

 What Causes Depression?

While the exact cause is unknown, the leading scientific theory is that depression is caused by decreased activity in the neural networks of the brain that regulate emotion and motivation. Increasing levels of neurotransmitters in the brain has been found to reactivate these neural networks or create new networks. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that send signals between brain cells. Depression is most often treated with antidepressant medications, thought to work by increasing the levels of these neurotransmitters.

Symptoms of Depression

According to the standard diagnosis guide published by the American Psychiatric Association, depression is diagnosed when an individual is experiencing either a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure plus four or more of the following symptoms during the same two-week period:

  • Significant weight loss (when not dieting) or weight gain (a change of more than 5 percent of body weight in a month)
  • Significant increase or decrease in appetite
  • Excessive sleepiness or insomnia
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive and inappropriate guilt nearly every day
  • Diminished ability to think, concentrate or make decisions
  • Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Seeking Help

Today seeking help has become easier. A psychiatric evaluation by a qualified professional is an important first step to helping a child experiencing more than the occasional blues. Always talk to your child and your child’s doctor to find out what you can do if you think your child is experiencing depression.

Dr. Kenneth P. Pages specializes in child and adolescent psychiatry. Dr. Pages is affiliated with Memorial Hospital of Tampa.

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