By Kevin P. Caputo, M.D.
Teenagers have always been stereotyped as moody and brooding, and it’s true that young adulthood is a time naturally filled with difficult emotional challenges. However, major depressive episodes (MDE) – a serious condition that goes well beyond the boundaries of normal adolescent angst – is on the rise among teenagers. A recent national study shows there has been a 37 percent increase in teens and young adults reporting an MDE over the last 12 months. Unfortunately, there has not been a corresponding rise in the number of teens receiving treatment for this very real, and sometimes dangerous, problem.
What Is a Major Depressive Episode?
A major depressive episode is a period of two weeks or more during which a person mostly feels down and depressed. They may lose interest in things they once loved and be unable to take pleasure in everyday activities. They may feel empty, hopeless, anxious, and have difficulty concentrating and making decisions. Thoughts of death and suicide, and sometimes suicide attempts, are also common during a major depressive episode. Physical symptoms of an MDE may include indigestion, aches and pains, and a tendency to sleep too much or too little.
A major depressive episode can be brought about by something happening in your life. For teens, this could be being bullied at school or through social media, or a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend. However, sometimes there will be no identifiable cause for a major depressive episode if it’s brought about by an imbalance in the brain chemicals that regulate mood and emotion.
When a teenager experiences an MDE, they may have trouble at school, grades may fall and they may skip school, after-school activities and avoid friends. During an MDE, teens may spend more time alone and become more irritable than usual. Self-harm, such as cutting and burning the skin, is also a warning sign that needs immediate attention, since they may be an indication of suicidal thoughts and a precursor to a suicide attempt.
Therapy Really Does Help Teens with Depression
Researchers studied the effects of three different therapeutic approaches on teens suffering from depression:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a psychotherapy treatment that provides a practical approach to problem-solving, with the goal of changing the way someone thinks or behaves in order to improve how they feel.
- Short-term psychoanalytical therapy: Psychoanalysis, or talk therapy, is designed to resolve emotional difficulties by uncovering repressed memories or unconscious thoughts.
- Psychosocial intervention: Psychosocial intervention looks at addressing both the psychological and social issues surrounding a mental disorder such as depression.
Regardless of which type of treatment they received, 70 percent of the teens in this study experienced improvement after receiving therapy. Among those who benefited from their treatment, there was a 50 percent reduction in depression symptoms over the next year.
Teenage years are packed with challenging issues. Teenagers’ brains and bodies are developing while they’re dealing with the pressures of school, family and friends. Additionally, each moment is documented and critiqued through social media, creating an environment where anxiety and depression can take root and grow.
If you’re a teen dealing with feelings of depression, or if you know and love a teen who may be suffering, seek help. Therapy is woefully underutilized even though it has been proven to significantly reduce feelings of depression.
About the Author
Dr. Caputo believes a trusting, open relationship is important to facilitate the healing process. He feels it is important for patients to be educated in order to create the best outcome.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Caputo, please call 610-874-5257.