By Amarachukwu Okpunobi
No matter how despondent life seems right now, there are many things you can do to start feeling better today. Use these tools to help yourself or a friend.
What is teen depression?
The teenage years can be really tough and it’s perfectly normal to feel sad or irritable every now and then. But if these feelings don’t go away or become so intense that you feel overwhelmingly hopeless and helpless, you may be suffering from depression.
Teen depression is much more than feeling temporarily sad or down in the dumps. It’s a serious and debilitating mood disorder that can change the way you think, feel, and function in your daily life, causing problems at home, school, and in your social life. When you’re depressed, you may feel hopeless and isolated and it can seem like no one understands. But depression is far more common in teens than you may think. The increased academic pressures, social challenges, and hormonal changes of the teenage years mean that about one in five of us suffer with depression in our teens. You’re not alone and your depression is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw.
Signs and symptoms of teen depression
It can be hard to put into words exactly how depression feels—and we don’t all experience it the same way. For some teens, depression is characterized by feelings of bleakness and despair. For others, it’s a persistent anger or agitation, or simply an overwhelming sense of “emptiness.” However depression affects you, though, there are some common symptoms that you may experience:
You constantly feel irritable, sad, or angry.
Nothing seems fun anymore—even the activities you used to love—and you just don’t see the point of forcing yourself to do them.
You feel bad about yourself—worthless, guilty, or just “wrong” in some way.
You sleep too much or not enough.
You’ve turned to alcohol or drugs to try to change the way you feel.
You have frequent, unexplained headaches or other physical pains or problems.
Anything and everything makes you cry.
You’re extremely sensitive to criticism.
You’ve gained or lost weight without consciously trying to.
You’re having trouble concentrating, thinking straight, or remembering things. Your grades may be plummeting because of it.
You feel helpless and hopeless.
You’re thinking about death or suicide. (If so, talk to someone right away!)
Why am I depressed?
Despite what you may have been told, depression is not simply caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that can be cured with medication. Rather, depression is caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. Since the teenage years can be a time of great turmoil and uncertainty, you’re likely facing a host of pressures that could contribute to your depression symptoms. These can range from hormonal changes to problems at home or school or questions about who you are and where you fit in.
Talking to someone about depression
It may seem like there’s no way your parents will be able to help, especially if they are always nagging you or getting angry about your behavior. The truth is, parents hate to see their kids hurting. They may feel frustrated because they don’t understand what is going on with you or know how to help.
If your parents are abusive in any way, or if they have problems of their own that makes it difficult for them to take care of you, find another adult you trust (such as a relative, teacher, counselor, or coach). This person can either help you approach your parents, or direct you toward the support you need.
No matter what, talk to someone, especially if you are having any thoughts of harming yourself or others. Asking for help is the bravest thing you can do, and the first step on your way to feeling better.
The importance of accepting and sharing your feelings
It can be hard to open up about how you’re feeling—especially when you’re feeling depressed, ashamed, or worthless. It’s important to remember that many people struggle with feelings like these at one time or another. They don’t mean you’re weak, fundamentally flawed, or no good. Accepting your feelings and opening up about them with someone you trust will help you feel less alone.
Overcoming teen depression
Tip 1: Talk to an adult you trust
Depression is not your fault, and you didn’t do anything to cause it. However, you do have some control over feeling better. The first step is to ask for help.
It may seem like there’s no way your parents will be able to help, especially if they are always nagging you or getting angry about your behavior. The truth is, parents hate to see their kids hurting. They may feel frustrated because they don’t understand what is going on with you or know how to help. No matter what, talk to someone, especially if you are having any thoughts of harming yourself or others. Asking for help is the bravest thing you can do, and the first step on your way to feeling better.
Tip 2: Try not to isolate yourself—it makes depression worse
Depression causes many of us to withdraw into our shells. You may not feel like seeing anybody or doing anything and some days just getting out of bed in the morning can be difficult. But isolating yourself only makes depression worse. So even if it’s the last thing you want to do, try to force yourself to stay social. As you get out into the world and connect with others, you’ll likely find yourself starting to feel better.
Volunteer. Doing things for others is a powerful antidepressant and happiness booster. Volunteering for a cause you believe in can help you feel reconnected to others and the world, and give you the satisfaction of knowing you’re making a difference.
Cut back on your social media use. While it may seem that losing yourself online will temporarily ease depression symptoms, it can actually make you feel even worse.
Tip 3: Adopt healthy habits
Making healthy lifestyle choices can do wonders for your mood. Things like eating right, getting regular exercise, and getting enough sleep have been shown to make a huge difference when it comes to depression.
Get moving! Ever heard of a “runner’s high”? You actually get a rush of endorphins from exercising, which makes you feel instantly happier. Physical activity can be as effective as medications or therapy for depression, so get involved in sports, ride your bike, or take a dance class. Any activity helps! If you’re not feeling up to much, start with a short daily walk, and build from there.
Tip 4: Manage stress and anxiety
For many teens, stress and anxiety can go hand-in-hand with depression. Unrelenting stress, doubts, or fears can sap your emotional energy, affect your physical health, send your anxiety levels soaring, and trigger or exacerbate depression. Since anxiety makes depression worse (and vice versa), it’s important to get help for both conditions.
How to help a depressed teen friend.
Teens typically rely on their friends more than their parents or other adults, so you may find yourself in the position of being the first—or only—person that your depressed friend confides in. While this might seem like a huge responsibility, there are many things you can do to help:
Get your friend to talk to you. Starting a conversation about depression can be daunting, but you can say something simple: “You seem like you are really down, and not yourself. I really want to help you. Is there anything I can do?”
You don’t need to have the answers. Your friend just needs someone to listen and be supportive. By listening and responding in a non-judgmental and reassuring manner, you are helping in a major way.
Encourage your friend to get help. Urge your depressed friend to talk to a parent, teacher, or counselor.
Stick with your friend through the hard times. Depression can make people do and say things that are hurtful or strange. But your friend is going through a very difficult time, so try not to take it personally
Speak up if your friend is suicidal. If your friend is joking or talking about suicide, giving possessions away, or saying goodbye, tell a trusted adult immediately. Your only responsibility at this point is to get your friend help, and get it fast. Even if you promised not to tell, your friend needs your help. It’s better to have a friend who is temporarily angry at you than one who is no longer alive.