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Q&A: Depression


Q: What is depression and how do you know if you have it?

A: Major depression is diagnosed when a teen experiences a depressed or irritable mood and/or a loss of interest and pleasure in almost all activities for a period of at least two weeks.

Sometimes what we tend to call depression isn’t really depression. Many teenagers feel blue and moody at times. If it passes in a few days to a week, there’s nothing to be concerned about.

On the other hand, you might be depressed if a really positive event doesn’t cheer you up. Also, be aware of your eating and sleeping patterns. If you’re suddenly having a hard time sleeping, or find that you’re eating a lot more or a lot less, it might be time to talk to someone.

Q: How young can it start?

A: Depression can be found in children as young as preschool aged, but it is more common in teenagers. Almost 3% of children and 8% of adolescents suffer from depression.

Q: How long can depression last and can it go away on its own?

A: Untreated major depression can last months or even years. Depression can also come and go in cycles, with periods of relief followed by a reoccurrence.

The “blues” are normal and likely to fade with time or a change in routine. Major depression is not likely to go away without treatment. No one can “will” themselves not to feel depressed.

Q: What kind of treatment is available for depression?

image by Julieth Riano

A: Nearly two-thirds of depressed teens don’t get proper treatment. Those who do are treated with either psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

If the depression is severe, medication is often recommended. Research has shown that one form of psychotherapy that is effective is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in combination with medication. A major aim of CBT is to change the beliefs or behaviors that help to keep the depression going. Everyone has thoughts that “automatically” pop into their heads, but depressed teens tend to have more “negative” ones.

The first step in controlling our “negative” thoughts is to learn to become aware of them and to identify the ones we have most often.

Q: Why might a teenager refuse to talk to someone about feeling depressed?

A: Depression can be hard to talk about. Some teens have a difficult time putting words to their feelings.

If you know someone who might be depressed, try to listen without trying to fix them. The more accepting you are, the more they’re likely to tell you. But remember, it’s not your responsibility to understand exactly what your friend is going through.

Q: How can you help a friend who is depressed?

A: Depression plays tricks on people, making them see themselves, other people and the world in a negative way. Your friend’s perspective on life might be foggy and instead of looking forward to the future, your friend might be feeling hopeless and helpless.

Take your friend’s comments seriously and don’t try to convince them not to feel bad. Ask them what might be helpful, but don’t promise to keep the information secret. Encourage your friend to get help, but if they don’t, tell someone that you are worried. Don’t assume someone else is handling the problem. But don’t make it your problem either. Ask for help from your parents, teachers or guidance counselors.

For more information about depression and how to help yourself or someone you care about, visit www.nyc.gov/teen.

If you live in New York City, find out about free counseling at The Door. Call (212) 941-9090 or visit thedoor.org for more information.