If you are a teen and suspect that you are suffering from depression, find an adult who will listen and help you get treatment. If you have a friend or teenager who suffers from teen depression, help him or her get to a doctor who can check for physical illnesses that cause some of the symptoms of teen depression, such as hypothyroidism or anemia. If a teen is diagnosed with depression, a doctor may suggest medications, refer the teen to a therapist, or both. It is important that the teen with depression is comfortable with whomever treats him or her.
Medications are commonly used to treat teen depression, though their long-term effects on teens are not well studied. The most common type of medication prescribed for teens is the SSRI (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) fluoxetine, or Prozac. Other types of medications, including those normally prescribed for adults such as Zoloft, may be tried for teens with depression as well. Doctors usually must use trial and error to find the right medication and dosages. Antidepressant drugs do have some side-effects, sometimes including suicidal behavior, so it is important for friends and family to watch for the warning signs of suicide in a teen taking antidepressants, such as talking about death or suicide or giving away personal possessions.
A stay in the hospital may be necessary for a teen who is suicidal or experiencing hallucinations.
Individual or group therapy can help teens with depression to:
- Recognize and change the negative thoughts that may cause or trigger depression
- Find better ways to solve problems
- Learn better social and interpersonal skills
Family therapy is also beneficial in helping teens and their families understand and deal with teen depression.
In severe cases, older teens with depression may be eligible for electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which sends electrical stimulation into the brain in an attempt to help rebalance neurotransmitters. Some of the side effects of this treatment can include memory loss (usually short-term), nausea, and head and body aches. The long-term effects of this and other alternative treatments are not known.
Some things you can do as a teen to help your depression include:
- Attend scheduled therapy and do not stop taking medications or take alternative treatments without talking to your doctor.
- Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and get enough sleep.
- Participate in positive activities; even small activities like personal grooming help.
- Keep a journal about how you feel to help yourself and your doctor or therapist determine triggers and effective treatments.
- Learn about teen depression.
- Know that you can feel better.
- If you feel suicidal, tell someone and call 911 or a suicide hotline immediately.
Some things you can do if you know a teen with depression include:
- Get help for the teen – never wait in hopes that the person will get better.
- Let the teen know that you are there for him or her and that he or she has value; repeat this often.
- Consider having a no-suicide contract, either verbal or written, with the teen.
- Learn all you can about teen depression.
- Set a good example by taking good care of yourself and balancing your own life; get help if you feel depressed or guilty.
- Encourage the teen to take care of him or herself and to stick to any treatment he or she is undergoing.
- Never tell him or her to “snap out of it” and be patient with the teen.
- Watch for warning signs of suicide; if you see any of these signs, call a doctor or 911 or take the teen to an emergency room immediately.
Resources: If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, call 911 or: Samariteens Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-252-TEEN (8336) Or 1-800-273-TALK. Your local phonebook may also list suicide hotlines and clinics that offer free or discounted treatment.
Teen Depression Treatment Sources:
- Kidhealth.org from the Nemours Foundation, “Understanding Depression” [online]
- Norfolk District Attorney’s Office, “Depression” [online]