Depression & Suicide – Overview

depression overview

Rachel hasn’t been herself lately. She used to be active on the debate team, run track, and always be up for a slice of pizza after school. But now, her friends are seeing her less and less, and she seems ambivalent about the activities she used to really love. Her parents think she’s just being moody, but her friends suspect that this “funk” is taking over Rachel’s life. She knows she’s been feeling off, but can’t seem to explain why — after all, there’s nothing “wrong.” But Rachel doesn’t need a reason to feel upset—sometimes depression creeps up without a trigger or a reason at all.

What is depression?

Everybody gets depressed once in a while, and you can sometimes feel moody or really, really sad without being diagnosed with depression. But if you’re feeling down more often than not, and it’s interfering with your daily life, you could have depression. Clinical depression is often diagnosed when you’re feeling sad, hopeless, or depressed continuously for a period of two weeks or longer.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Teenagers may experience or show depression a little differently than adults. The most common symptom of depression in teens is a change of behavior — it’s normal to feel moody or emotional sometimes, but if you feel out of control or like you’re struggling to act “like yourself,” that could be a sign of depression.

  • Emotional symptoms
    • Feeling hopeless
    • Feeling sad
    • Feeling angry
    • Feeling easily annoyed or irritable
    • Feeling guilty
    • Feeling worthless
    • Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
    • Loss of interest in your family or friends
    • Low self esteem
    • Difficulty concentrating
    • Thoughts of death, dying, or suicide
  • Behavioral symptoms
    • Sleeping too much or too little
    • Loss of energy
    • Changes in appetite; gaining or losing weight
    • Fidgeting; restlessness; being unable to sit still
    • Use of alcohol or drugs
    • Moving, thinking, or speaking slowly
    • Losing interest in appearance or hygiene
    • Poor performance in school
    • Being frequently late or absent from school or activities
    • Self-harm
    • Making a suicide plan or attempt, or talking about suicide

What causes depression?

Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, affecting 11.4% of teens across the U.S. Several factors can lead to someone developing depression, such as:

  • Brain chemistry
    • Chemicals in your brain can control your mood — and if there isn’t enough of a certain chemical, or if it isn’t being absorbed correctly, that can lead to depression.
  • Hormones
    • As a teen, your hormones are in full-force — which can cause or trigger depression.
  • Genetics
    • If a parent or family member suffers from depression, you are more likely to experience depression as well.
  • A traumatic event
    • If you’ve experienced an upsetting life event, anything from flunking a class to the death of a loved one, the incident could trigger depression
  • No reason or cause at all
    • You don’t need to know why you’re depressed in order to feel the symptoms. No matter who you are or what caused your depression, your symptoms are valid—and you deserve treatment.

What are some ways to treat or alleviate depression?

There are several different ways to treat depression, and not every treatment works for every person. Sometimes a combination of treatments works best  —it’s all about working with your doctor to figure out what’s right for you. When you meet with a doctor, counselor, or trusted adult about how you’ve been feeling, be honest. Like with any disease or disorder, a doctor can’t treat a symptom if he or she doesn’t know it’s there.

  • Types of therapy
    • CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)
      • Problem-focused and action-oriented therapy to help you change your behavior and thinking
    • Interpersonal psychotherapy
      • Focused on how relationships affect our moods, and how our moods affect our relationships (this may be helpful if you feel like your depression keeps you from enjoying time with your friends, or if you feel like a negative relationship may have incited your depression)
    • Family-focused therapy
      • If your depression affects or is affected by your family, you may be asked to attend therapy together
    • Medication
      • Your doctor may prescribe an anti-depressant or another medication that’s been approved to treat depression, usually in combination with therapy

What’s the relationship between depression and suicide?

  • At least 90% of suicides are related to underlying depression, even if the person doesn’t know he or she is depressed
  • Suicidal thoughts are a symptom of depression
  • People with depression are at an increased risk of suicide (both attempts and completion)
  • If you or a friend is having suicidal thoughts, reach out and get help. Untreated depression can be extremely dangerous, and nobody should have to feel helpless or depressed.

If someone you know has a plan to hurt or kill his or herself, call their parents immediately. If their parents don’t respond or react appropriately, call 911.

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to be connected with a trained crisis counselor 24/7.

If you or a friend is feeling depressed but you don’t think you need to take immediate action, read on to our How to Help page  to find other ways to help with depression and suicidal thoughts.

Special thanks to our experts:

  • Lois Flaherty, MD, Child development psychiatrist, Former president of ASAP (the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry), and lecturer on psychiatry at Harvard University
  • Rhonda C. Boyd, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences 

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