Teenage depression is a growing problem in today’s society and is often a major contributing factor for a multitude of adolescent problems. The statistics about teenage runaways, alcoholism, drug problems, pregnancy, eating disorders, and suicide are alarming. Even more startling are the individual stories behind these statistics because the young people involved come from all communities, all economic levels, all home situations-anyone’s family. The common link is often depression. For the individuals experiencing this crisis, the statistics become relatively meaningless.
The difficult passage into adolescence and early adulthood can leave lasting scars on the lives and psyches of an entire generation of young men and women. There is growing realization that teenage depression can be life- changing, even life-threatening. (McCoy 21) Depression is a murky pool of feelings and actions scientists have been trying to understand since the days of Hippocrates, who called it a “black bile. ” It has been called “the common cold of mental illness and, like the cold, it’s difficult to quantify. ” (Arbetter 1) If feelings of great sadness or agitation last for much more than two weeks, it may be depression.
For a long time, people who were feeling depressed were told to “snap out of it. ” According to a study done by National Institute of Mental Health, half of all Americans still view depression as a personal weakness or character flaw. Depression, however, is considered a medical disorder and can affect thoughts, feelings, physical health, and behaviors. It interferes with daily life such as school, friends, and family. “Clinical depression is the most incapacitating of all chronic conditions in terms of social functioning. ” (Salmans 11-12) Teenagers have always been vulnerable to depression for a variety of reasons.
It’s a confusing time of life because a teen’s body is changing along with their relationships. “Teenagers constantly vacillate between strivings for independence from family and regressions to childish dependence on it. ” (Elkind 89) But today’s teens face an additional challenge: They’re growing up in a world quite different from that of their parent’s youth. Adolescents today are faced with stresses that were unknown to previous generations and are dealing with them in an often self-destructive way. Contemporary society has changed the perception of teenagers.
New parental lifestyles, combined with changes in the economy, often give less time and energy for parents to devote to their offspring. Society all too often views teens for what they can be instead of for who they are. Who they are becomes the identity of teenagers today. “They are confronted with the ambiguity of education, the dis! solution of family, the hostile commercialism of society, and the insecurity of relationships. ” (McCoy 16) This identity is fragile and is threatened by fears of rejection, feelings of failure, and of being different.
These young people face stress in school as well with resources dwindling and campus violence and harassment increasing. Their sexual awakening comes in the age of AIDS, when sex can kill. In summary, teens today feel less safe, less empowered and less hopeful than we did a generation ago. Depression is a common concomitant to this struggle. (McCoy 36) It strikes 5% of teens and about 2% of children under 12. One in three adolescents in the nineties is at risk for serious depression. (Stern 28) Depression is the result of a complex mix of social, psychological, physical, and environmental factors.
Teens with depressed parents are two to three times more likely to develop major depression. Genetic factors play a substantial but not overwhelming role in causing depression. (Dowling 37) Some type of significant loss can be a factor in triggering teenage depression. Loss can be due to death, divorce, separation, or loss of a family member, important friend or romantic interest. Loss can also be more subtle such as the loss of childhood, of a familiar way of being, of goals through achievement, or of boundaries and guidelines.
Gender differences are becoming apparent, with girls having more difficulty with depression. Studies show girls are three times more likely than boys to suffer depression. A university study showed a close link between depression and negative body image and girls are usually more self-conscious about their bodies than boys. (Sol! in 157) The reasons for depression are not always clear-cut. Although some depressed, even suicidal teenagers come from extremely troubled backgrounds with a lifetime of difficulties at home and at school, the vast majority of depressed teens are not without resources, support, or love.
They simply find, for a variety of reasons, that they’re feeling overwhelmed by a sensation of hopelessness and helplessness. It is imperative to realize that depression can happen to teenagers, even those who have everything going for them. It can happen to the best and brightest of young people. (McCoy 27) It’s hard to detect depression in teens because it’s a developmental stage characterized by considerable anger and withdrawal. Adolescents don’t necessarily look sad and depressed and its normal for teens to have mood swings but within limits.
A depressed teen may cry for help indirectly through troublesome, even destructive behavior and through physical symptoms. For a teenager to admit that he or she needs help feels like regressing back to childhood. To be a teen means to externalize feelings and deal with the world through action. (Arbetter 6) Depression ranks second only to advanced heart disease in exacting a physical toll, measured by days in bed and body pain. It’s common for people with depressive disorders to complain about recurring headaches, backaches, chronic fatigue, and insomnia.
Being sick can be a binding thing that keeps the teenager tied to parents, if the illness is the only time the teen receives attention and love from their parents. (Dowling 127) The body may signal what the mind is saying through physical symptoms. The body expresses feelings and conflicts that the teenager is unable to verbalize. Physical ills are often viewed with more importance than emotional pain by parents, teachers, or even the teens themselves. (Papolos 36) “It’s much easier for adolescents to ask for medical care than for psychological help.
They often have a great fear of being crazy or of being thought to be crazy. ” (McCoy 209) Another serious medical problem that is affecting more and more teens is an eating disor! der. An eating disorder often represents a teenager’s attempt to gain some control by engaging in a behavior which can not be regulated by another person. One-third to one-half of patients with eating disorders have a major depressive illness at the same time. (Papolos 72) More than one million teens, most under the age of sixteen, run away from home every year.
They are neither adventurous nor rebellious adolescents, but teens tested and troubled by life’s circumstances. A young girl at a shelter for teenage runaways tries to explain why she has run away from home four times in the past two months. Drawing her blanket around her like a cocoon, the fourteen-year – old quietly stares at the floor. “I’m no good to anyone, I get upset and fuss at home and it causes trouble for everyone. I had to run away to save my parent’s marriage. ” Unfortunately, this story is not at all unusual. (McCoy 22) Of the 1. illion teen runaways in the United States, an estimated 300,000 have little hope or chance of returning home.
They often feel things are hopeless and that their parents would never understand. Drug use is on the rise among teens as young as thirteen. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, about 4% of high school seniors use alcohol daily, while 92% have tried it. Millions of teens have had adverse experiences caused by excessive drinking. (Elkind 203) Researchers have found that depressed teens are at particularly high risk for drug and alcohol abuse.
Abuse of drugs, alcohol, or other substances are often used to assuage depression. Studies have found that when depressed patients were given treatment, alcohol and drug intake diminished as well. Substance abuse is seen as both a symptom and a cause of depression. (Papolos 66) There is more sexual activity among teenagers today than at any other time in our history. By the time they leave high school, some 90% of seniors are no longer virgins. Sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers have reached epidemic proportions. Eight million young people each year are infected with a sexually transmitted disease.
Every thirty seconds, another U. S. teenager is infected. (Elkind 71) Sexual acting-out , which can not only be life-changing, but also life-threatening in this age of AIDS, can become an antidote to the loneliness and isolation many teenagers feel. Sexual activity is often used as an attempt to deal with feelings of depression, to increase self-esteem by feeling wanted and to achieve intimacy. (McCoy 21) Approximately 3,000 teenage girls in the United States will get pregnant today. An estimated 3 million teenage girls become pregnant each year.
Beth is a shy, quiet eighth-grader who is expecting a baby in two months. Beth admits her pregnancy was intentional and she plans to keep her baby “because then I’ll have someone of my own who will love me for sure. I won’t be alone anymore. ” ” This illusion of unconditional love, coupled with a lack of insight into the unrelenting demands that the complete dependence of an infant brings leads a number of girls to seek pregnancy. ” Some teens see parenthood as a way to recapture the joy of childhood they are losing, a way to be loved and important to someone else, or as an antidote to depression.
“Suicide among teenagers has skyrocketed 200% in the last decade. If we were talking about mononucleosis or meningitis we’d call this an epidemic. ” (Solin 155) Suicide has become the second leading cause of death among older teenagers. Adolescents are particularly at risk for suicide attempts because they progress through a variety of rapid developmental stages. The seriously depressed teen may often have a sense of hopelessness. Many teens are too immobilized by depression to see any alternatives or to take any positive steps toward change.
Salmans 40) ” All too often depressed teenagers don’t have the experience to know that time heals, that there is always hope. They don’t realize that they can survive a crisis and perhaps even learn from it. ” Life is often seen in absolutes which intensifies any crisis. (McCoy 64) The destructive potential of serious teenage depression can have many long-lasting aftereffects. Having and keeping a baby, getting into trouble with the law, sustaining a serious injury as the result of risk-taking behavior or stunting one’s emotional growth by anesthetizing painful feelings with drugs or alcohol can have a great impact on one’s future.
It can prevent a young adult from having a full, healthy, and productive life or make it considerably more difficult to do so. Depression is a growing problem amongst today’s teenagers. Depression brings with it many problems that can be self-destructive. If a teenager has the benefit of early intervention and help in coping with his or her depression, however, the life script can be quite different. (McCoy 66-67)