This article first appeared in the World Journal.
Monday, January 14, 2019
by Richard Lee
It is a serious mental health problem and is a leading cause of self-harm and teen suicide. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), nearly 13% of US teens ages 12-17 suffer from major depression – essentially 1 in 8 teenagers.
Depression can result in both emotional and behavioral changes. Symptoms may include feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, increased irritability and anger, low self-esteem and guilt, or loss of interest in activities. Other symptoms may include insomnia or sleeping too much, changes in appetite (decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain), lethargy, use of alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, or e-cigarettes. Depression may also be accompanied by school problems, ranging from frequent absences to poor performance.
Teenagers experience increased academic and social stress in their middle and high school years. Yea-Ching (Sunny) Wang, a marriage family therapist at El Camino Hospital, points out that fierce competition in the Bay Area and high accomplishment expectations of many Chinese parents can put their children under intense pressure. In addition, the physiological and psychological changes that occur during puberty can increase the risk for developing depression.
One of the most common signs of depression in teenagers is the loss of interest in activities and hobbies that they once enjoyed. They may no longer want to participate in sports, go to class or do their homework. They may suddenly become very irritable or angry because of their inability to manage their moods and emotions.
We all experience sadness at times. Wang notes that true depression is different from sadness or a response to stress; it requires careful assessment to determine its duration, severity, and the loss of function. If symptoms last for more than two weeks or get worse over time, such as not sleeping or eating, use of alcohol or drugs, or engaging in self-mutilation, then it is classified as clinical depression. Some teenagers may have difficulty connecting or communicating with their parents. They may not tell them about their worries or may cover up their scars from self-mutilation with long-sleeved clothes. Parenting a depressed child requires astute observation and effective parenting skills.
Yea-Ching (Sunny) Wang
Marriage Family Therapist (LMFT), M.A.
El Camino Health Behavioral Health Services ASPIRE Program Clinician