Teen Depression: What Every Parent and Teen Needs to Know

Teen depression is serious
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The Mayo Clinic has described teen depression as a serious mental health problem that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities.

It affects how a teenager thinks, feels and behaves and can cause emotional, psychological and physical problems. Issues such as peer pressure, family problems, academic expectations and changing bodies can bring a lot of ups and downs for teenagers. For some teens, the lows are more than just temporary feelings. They’re symptoms of clinical depression.

Untreated depression can have serious consequences. Fortunately, for most teens, depression symptoms ease with counseling and, for some, a combination of therapy and medication.

Emotional changes and dramatic shifts of feelings and thoughts during these times may include:

— Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
— Loss of interest and pleasure in involvements and activities
— Feeling hopeless or feeling a sense of emptiness
— Feelings of worthlessness or debilitating guilt
— Low self-esteem
— Fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame and self-criticism
— Sleeping too much or not enough
— Loss of appetite
— Trouble thinking, making decisions, concentrating and remembering things
— Dramatic increase in use of alcohol or drugs, including prescription and over-the-counter medication
— Social isolation
— Paying less attention to personal hygiene or appearance
— Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior or other acting-out behaviors
— Self-harm that may include cutting or burning of one’s body
— Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt
— An ongoing feeling that prospects for life and the future are grim and hopeless
— Increased and/or more frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide

Dear Beatty,

I am a 17-year-old senior at East Hampton High School. I’ve been depressed for the past two years since my parents’ divorce. My father at times was verbally and physically abusive toward my mom and me — especially when he had too much to drink. Even though it’s been difficult financially, my mom and I have been able to stay in our house. My father has moved to another state. He rarely calls, and even though we weren’t close and there were certainly many troubled times, I still miss my old family life. I recently have had thoughts of suicide, even though I don’t think I have the courage to do it.

P.S. Beatty, I met you at East Hampton High School and thought that maybe you could help.

-Antonio, Sag Harbor

Dear Antonio,

What a brave young man you are for writing to me. I am so glad that I convinced you — and hopefully the other students in your classes — that it is a strength and not a weakness to reach out and ask for help. We all go through so many ups and downs in our lives and we need to remind ourselves that we don’t need to take this journey on our own. Thank you for sharing what’s going on in your life and for trusting me to try and help you.

It makes perfect sense that you are feeling depressed about your parents’ divorce, even though you say they fought a lot and that your father was verbally and physically abusive to both you and your mother. Divorce is like a death and most people go through a number of different stages including (not necessarily in any particular order): denial, anger, depression and, finally, acceptance.

On the one hand, I’m sure you’re relieved that you no longer have to witness your parents fighting and arguing. On the other hand, I completely understand the emptiness that you must be feeling — particularly since you and your dad rarely talk now. Are their any plans for visits? Are you going to be able to spend some holidays and vacations with him? Assuming, of course, that you will be emotionally and physically safe with him.

Are you able to talk to your mom about how you’re feeling? Does she know how depressed you are? Even in the closest of relationships, people are not mind readers. It’s important for our emotional well-being to express our feelings to people we trust. Hopefully, they will be able to guide us in a positive direction.

Do you have a few or even one close friend you can trust who may have gone through a similar situation who you can to talk to? Since you’re a student at East Hampton High School, you should know that there are a number of really good counselors who I know would be able to help you get your life back on track. Reaching out to me was a really good first step.

Now it’s time to find someone who you can talk to on a regular basis — until you start to feel better. Would you consider attending a group for other young people who are dealing with the pain of family divorce? What’s clear to me is that right now you need support! If you’d like, I can help you set up a meeting with one of your school counselors ASAP. You can email me at [email protected].


Beatty Cohan, MSW, LCSW, AASECT

Beatty Cohan, MSW, LCSW, AASECT is a nationally recognized psychotherapist, sex therapist, author of For Better for Worse Forever: Discover the Path to Lasting Love, national speaker, national radio and television expert guest and host of the weekly ASK BEATTY SHOW on the Progressive Radio Network. Beatty has a private practice in New York City and East Hampton.

Beatty would love to hear from you. You can email your questions and comments to [email protected]. For more info go to beattycohan.com.