Teen depression can be a slumbering monster


They're virtually inescapable, those telltale signs of adolescence: emotional turmoil, mood swings, gloomy introspection, great drama, heightened sensitivity, rebellion and behavioral experimentation.

It can be tough being a teenager and possibly even tougher being around one. So how is a parent or other concerned adult to know if this child is going through the natural rigors of adolescence or experiencing something more sinister, like depression?

The following checklist may be helpful. People with depression often exhibit some or all of these symptoms:

crying more often than in the past;

feeling blue or empty inside;

thinking life is hopeless when things do not go his or her way;

having a hard time falling asleep at bedtime, or waking in the middle of the night and having trouble going back to sleep;

losing interest in favorite activities;

spending more time alone, away from friends and family;

weight gain or loss in recent weeks;

seeming more worn out and tired than in the past;

talking about hurting himself.

In a teenager, these symptoms may be witnessed in the following behaviors:

Pervasive sadness may be exhibited by wearing black clothes, writing poetry with morbid themes, or a preoccupation with music that has destructive lyrics.

A sleep disturbance may manifest as all-night television watching, difficulty in getting up for school, or sleeping during the day.

Lack of motivation and lowered energy level is reflected by missed classes.

A drop in grade averages can be caused by a loss of concentration and slowed thinking.

Loss of appetite may become an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia.

Adolescent depression may also appear as disorderly conduct, substance or alcohol abuse, or as family turmoil and rebellion with no obvious symptoms that indicate depression.

Havre kids are no exception.

Each year, Havre Public Schools administers the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance assessment to students at the high school, alternative school and middle school.

Two of the assessment questions address depression and the its ultimate risk: suicide. Of the high school students surveyed, 32 percent answered "yes" to the question, "During the past 12 months, did you ever feel so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that you stopped doing some usual activities?" At the alternative school, 35.3 percent answered "yes" to that question, while 16.9 percent of middle school students answered "yes."

Fortunately, the next question drew less agreement from students. When asked, "During the past 12 months, did you ever seriously consider attempting suicide?," 14.1 percent of surveyed students at the high school answered "yes," while 11.8 percent of students at the alternative school answered "yes." At the middle school, 11.9 percent of students answered "yes."

These results suggest that extended periods of sadness, which can lead to depression, become a greater risk as children move deeper into the teen years.

A depressed child needs more than the encouragement to "cheer up" or "snap out of it." He needs a medical assessment, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Major depression, including bipolar affective disorder, often appears for the first time during the teenage years, and early recognition of these conditions will have profound effects on later health and life expectancy.

The majority of teenage depressions can be managed successfully by a primary care physician with the support of the family, says Maurice Blackman, clinical professor and director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Alberta Hospitals in Edmonton, Alberta.

Regrettably, depression in this age group is greatly under-diagnosed, leading to serious difficulties in school, work and personal adjustment that often continue into adulthood.

A depressive disorder is an illness that involves the body, mood, and thoughts. It affects the way a person eats and sleeps, the way one feels about oneself, and the way one thinks about things. A depressive disorder is not the same as a passing blue mood. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away. People with a depressive illness cannot merely "pull themselves together" and get better. Without treatment, symptoms can last for weeks, months or years. Appropriate treatment, however, can help most people who suffer from depression.

If unsure where to go for help, check the Yellow Pages under "mental health," "health," "social services," "suicide prevention," "crisis intervention services," "hotlines," "hospitals," or "physicians" for phone numbers and addresses. In times of crisis, the emergency room doctor at a hospital may be able to provide temporary help for an emotional problem, and will be able to tell you where and how to get further help.

The HELP Committee and Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line is committed to providing club members and the community with opportunities and education for healthy living. For more information on this or related topics, call 265-6206.


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