- Depression affects your feelings, behaviors, and thoughts.
- If you feel sad most of the time and it lasts for 2 or more weeks, see your health care provider.
- Treatment for depression may involve therapy and/or medication.
Having bad days once in a while is normal, but what if you feel down in the dumps for a few weeks, or even a few months? If you have been having feelings of sadness or irritability that won't go away, you might be experiencing depression. Depression is very common and can affect any person at any age, including teens. This guide is designed to help you understand depression better, so that you will be able to recognize the signs of depression in yourself or people who are close to you, so you will know how to help.
What is depression?
Depression is a psychological condition that affects your feelings, behaviors, and thoughts. You may have feelings of sadness or irritability, a lack of energy, trouble sleeping, feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, or unhappy thoughts about yourself or your life. You may even feel that your life is not worth living, or think about hurting yourself. Depression can also affect your physical health: you can have aches and pains all over, or in specific areas such as your stomach. You may have headaches, trouble sleeping, eating, or concentrating, or may not be able to pinpoint what is making you so unhappy.
Who gets depressed?
Depression affects children, teens, and adults of all ages. No one knows the exact number of teens affected by depression, but we do know that it affects a large number of teens, both male and female, from all ethnic and racial backgrounds. Sometimes it happens as a direct result of a stressful or upsetting situation, and sometimes it appears to have snuck up on you. It is important to try to understand the difference between feeling sad or “blue’” - which are typical feelings experienced by everyone at times - and being what is called “clinically depressed”.
What are the symptoms of clinical depression?
- Feel sad or "empty" a lot of the time-these feelings may come and go, but last for at least two weeks.
- Not feel like doing things you used to enjoy, like playing sports, hanging out with friends, or studying. It is harder to have fun than it used to be.
- Feel irritated a lot of the time (things get on your nerves more easily), or you may get angry or lose your temper more easily.
- Feel tired or have less energy, or you may be restless and edgy.
- Notice changes in your eating habits. You may eat more or less than you did before you started feeling depressed.
- Have changes in your sleep, either sleeping a lot more or a lot less than you used to, and/or having trouble falling asleep or waking up.
- Find it harder to stay focused and make decisions.
- Not feel good about yourself or about anything you do.
- Often feel guilty about things that you do or don't do.
- Feel that things will never get better.
- Have thoughts about not wanting to live or about hurting yourself, or you may have tried to hurt yourself.
How do I know whether I am depressed or just sad?
It's normal to feel depressed or sad sometimes. However, if you have some or all of the symptoms above most of the time for at least two weeks, you could have depression. If you are depressed, you may or may not notice changes in yourself, but usually people who are close to you will notice a change in you. Likewise, if you are close to someone who is truly depressed, you will usually notice a big change in that person's behavior or mood.
There are no laboratory tests that can be done to prove that you are depressed, like there are for illnesses such as strep throat or diabetes. However, if you think you may be depressed, it's worth talking with someone about it. A professional who is trained to understand depression, such as your health care provider or a counselor, will be able to ask the right questions to help decide if you are going through a period of sadness or whether you have depression.
What are the effects of depression?
Depression has many different and powerful effects on people who have depression and on the people around them.
- Make it harder to work at a job or in school.
- Make it more difficult to make and keep friends. It can also become more difficult to get along with family members.
- Affect your physical health. For example, you may feel tired or run down all the time.
- Make you feel tempted to turn to drugs, alcohol, or sex as a way to escape from your feelings.
- Make you feel extremely irritable and cause you to act out in ways that can get you into trouble, such as yelling or fighting.
- Cause you to have trouble paying attention, which can lead to car accidents and other mistakes.
- Lead to serious injury and even suicide if left untreated.
What causes depression?
No one knows for sure what causes depression. The most important thing to keep in mind is that it is not your fault if you become depressed. Most likely, depression is caused by a combination of things, some of which have to do with the chemicals in your brain and some that have to do with what's happening in your life. Some factors that may put you at risk for depression are:
- Genetics - If other people in your family suffer from depression, you may have similar genes and be more likely to get depressed.
- Family problems - A major loss in your family or conflict among members of your family may cause you to feel depressed.
- Feeling badly about yourself - If you are constantly being put down, abused, or neglected, or if you are having difficulty at school or other activities, you may be more likely to feel depressed.
- Feeling alone - Feeling that you are different from others or that your friends and family don't understand you or support you can make you feel depressed. Some examples of people who may feel alone or isolated from others are teens whom are GLBTQI teens, teens who have just broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, teens with medical problems, or teens who have a parents/family members going through a difficult time themselves.
These are just a few common examples, but there are many circumstances that can lead to feelings of depression. You may experience many of these things and yet not feel depressed. Or you may not have any of these problems but still feel depressed.
It is important to talk with someone qualified to help you if you suspect that you are depressed. A trusted adult such as a parent/guardian, a teacher, guidance counselor, nurse, health care provider, or clergy person can help you find the right counselor.
If you ever think that you are going to hurt yourself, it is extremely important to tell someone right away and get help to keep safe: you can always go to an emergency room.
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