By Sallie P. Mink, R.N
Program Coordinator, DRADA
The teenage years are a time of great change. We know that. They are a time for testing authority and experimenting with various roles in various social situations as well as coping with academic pressures and parental expectations. We know that, too; and consequently we tend to view the often labile moods and behavior of teens as simply "phases they are going through"--that is, as normal teenage behavior that will eventually resolve itself. We tend to overlook the fact that frequently the moods and behavior mask an underlying depressive illness. As a result, clinical depression and manic depression among young people of this age are largely under diagnosed.
Studies indicate that about 5 percent of young people between the ages of 14 and 18 suffer from clinical depression or manic-depressive illness. This means that right now, over one million American adolescents are walking around with a depressive illness. Unfortunately, the same studies indicate that only 20 percent of these young people will be diagnosed, and even fewer will receive appropriate treatment. For the majority, this lack of adequate treatment leads to poor grades in school, truancy, eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, and often-ultimately-to suicide. In fact, suicide has become the second leading cause of death among this age group. And, although the leading cause of death is automobile accidents, some of these fatal accidents are actually thought to be successful suicide attempts. Many are related to drugs and alcohol.
SYMPTOMS TO LOOK FOR:
- Depressed mood (life seems sad, blah, empty)
- Marked decrease in interest or pleasure in almost all activities
- Significantly less or more appetite (anorexia and bulimia can be signs that mask a depression)
- Sleeping more than usual, or inability to sleep
- Noticeable slowing of speech or movements, or inability to sit still
- Fatigue, loss of energy
- Feeling of worthlessness or extreme guilt
- Difficulties in thinking or concentrating (grades may drop significantly)
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide (most doctors agree that such thoughts, all by themselves, are sufficient reason to seek help)
The toll taken by depressive illness doesn't end with the teenage years. Left untreated, the illness can recur throughout life, leading to broken families, disrupted careers, and checkered, unfulfilled lives.