Peter Wibell Columnist
Two months ago I authored an article in this newspaper entitled “Ceremony Sheds Light on County’s Mental Health”. It was a commentary on a need for mental health resources spawned by the memorial bench ceremony in remembrance of former resident Jonathan Morris. In order to reduce the risk of suicide, our community needs to be able to identify contributing factors and symptoms of depression. To that end I offer some perspective. Adolescent Depression: Part I We hear the term ‘depression’ casually used by people to describe a relatively normal state of mind involving short-term sadness experienced by most everyone. Depression also refers to a serious debilitating mental disorder. As adolescence is a time of constant change, when teens experience depressive symptoms, adults need to be able to recognize and distinguish what is normal and what is not. Prior to adolescence, kids derive their sense of worth mainly from their parent’s love, attention, and encouragement. During adolescence, a time when teens begin to look toward their own adulthood, they begin to express independence while dismissing parental involvement. They turn to peer acceptance in order to feel valued. Teens with new friends feel good about themselves, but many teens are involved in unstable relationships. “Friends” are often lost and feelings get hurt. A single significant failed relationship can cause a teen to crash and feel rejected, even when he is reasonably accepted. The result can be an emerging low self-opinion, which may spawn depressed feelings. Other factors can contribute to reactive depression. Experiencing any sense of loss can lead to self-negation. When a family relocates, teens often experience significant separation from an entire support network. Rather than minimizing the effect of change, parents would do well to encourage adolescents to share their feelings and discuss ongoing adjustment problems while remaining optimistic that things will improve. A chronic illness can leave a teen feeling different, alienated, and depressed. Drug use can contribute to depression due to the chemical actually suppressing the central nervous system. Also, feelings of guilt that accompany illicit use and the corresponding deceit and secretiveness that compromise relationships can result in becoming depressed. Adolescent Depression: Part II Sometimes direct and indirect loss experiences contribute to an adolescent’s overall pessimistic orientation towards life. When this happens, teens begin to anticipate future losses and things going wrong. They begin to feel powerless and/or hopeless. They personalize these feelings and are left with a sense that they don’t measure up to what they should be. Symptoms of adolescent depression include a loss of interest in formerly satisfying activities, a change of mood (sadness or irritability); disturbances of sleep (usually sleeping more than normal); weight gain or loss; excessive guilt feelings; change n movement (either fidgety or slowed down); suicidal thoughts (a preoccupation with death or self-injury). What makes adolescent depression more difficult to recognize is that teens frequently camouflage depression. Adolescents are reluctant to ask for help in their attempt to handle situations. They sometimes mislabel depression as things being boring. Involvement in risk-taking activities can be an attempt to substitute excitement for feeling depressed. Sometimes teens will take on more, believing that achievement will eliminate depression. In fact, these high achievers can have dependency needs that create a precarious sense of worth. Parents can help by letting adolescents know you really want to understand how they feel and do so while not being critical or righteous. Parents should express concern about how the teen feels and take those feelings seriously. Parents must help the teen find treatment aimed at improving his ability to effectively cope with life stressors. The choice of family therapy sends a message that it’s not just the teen’s problem but rather everyone has a role in working things out. Once adults and teen peers become better able to identify symptoms and more aware of factors that often contribute to adolescent depression, our community will have taken an important initial step towards timely intervention in the lives of those needing mental-emotional help.