About a year ago, Crystal, 15, felt as though she was carrying the problems of the world on her shoulders. Her father had lost his job three months earlier leaving the family scrapping for money to pay the home mortgage and monthly utility bills. Crystal’s mother was forced to take a second job leaving Crystal in the role of having to care for her four younger brothers and sisters and the pressures that went with younger siblings.
As a result of these pressures, Crystal began to isolate herself more from her friends and going to her bedroom more often after her parents arrived home from their low paying jobs. Soon Crystal began showing signs of anger towards her younger siblings, friends, and even her parents. After her outburst, she would cry for the smallest things and would not know why. Crystal was depressed.
Clinical depression is defined as a chemical imbalance in the brain. A study conducted in 2000 from the United States Surgeon General’s office found that about 1 teen in 8 may have depression at any given time in the United States. This study also revealed that roughly 20% of teens have emotional problems and 33% attending psychiatric clinics are suffering from depression.
Depression is so common that it is called the “Common Cold” of mental health because just about everyone becomes depressed at some time within a year. Just about anything a person deems important to her or him can cause depression---loss of a job, bad grades, breakup between a girlfriend-boyfriend; a long and complicated illness or death of a loved one. Depression called by such events is referred to as situational depression. Situational depression become a serious medical problem when it last for a long time.
Parents, family, friends and church youth leader/ministers can help determine if their teen friend is suffering from situational or clinical depression by answering the following questions:
Is the teen’s sleep and/or eating patterns disrupted?
Is the teen withdrawing from family, friends or her/his usual activities?
Has the teen’s depression lasted for more than two weeks?
Is there a great deal of crying?
Does the teen frequently complain of headaches, stomachaches, being tired or vomit on many occasions?
Does the teen experience difficulty concentrating and is there a sudden unexplained decline in the teen’s schoolwork?
Is there alcohol and/or drug use?
In too many instances, parents, friends and others do not take depression seriously. This can be a dangerous mistake leading to a tragedy that might have been prevented.
In a recent report from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, thousands of American teens commit suicide each year. In 2001, it is reported that teen suicide is the second leading cause of death among persons from 12 through 19 years of age. Unfortunately, teens are under a great deal of pressure from their world and from the adult world. Teens are pressed to think a particular way, listen to the right music, dress right, be slim, be in the right group, experiment with alcohol, drug and early sexual expression. Adults pressure teens to do well in school, be popular, grow up too soon, let them date members of the opposite gender too soon, as well as bring their problems to teens already under a great deal of pressures.
Before parents, family or friends immediately jump to the conclusion that their teen is depressed after going through the above check list, it is advised that a visit to the family’s doctor or pediatrician for a physical check up. In some instances, what may thought to be depression could be substance abuse and use. The bottom line towards dealing with the growing problems of depression among teens and in more and more instances pre-teens as young as 5 years, verbal interaction (this is wherein there is meaningful verbal exchange between both teen and parent) and meaningful social involvement in the lives of young people. Involvement here means active not passive parenting. That is, imbuing your young person with a sense of right and wrong, family activities, family discussions, awareness of friends, where your teen goes, rules and the like. Involved parents are less likely to suffer the tragedy and the results of a clinically depressed teen if they are honest and involved in the personal, social and spiritual lives of their young person.
Adolescent Depression Scale
Directions: If five or more questions are answered “yes”, professional help should be sought.
1. Changes in: a) habits b) mood c) friends d) school?
2. Sad, blue, negative, emotional or sensitive?
3. Irritable, short fuse, grouchy, aggressive or sulky?
4. Anxious, restless?
5. Tired, not feeling like doing things?
6. Can’t concentrate or think straight?
7. Feeling guilty, not worth much, unloved or withdrawn?
8. Can’t sleep well, sleeps too much?
9. Eats more or less? Weight loss or gain?
10. Delinquent, truant, leaving home, school problems?
11. Sick, aches, pains such as headaches or stomach pains?
12. Thinking sad thoughts? How much?
13. Thinking about death? All of the time?
14. Doing alcohol or drugs?
15. Thinking of suicide? Has a plan? Has the tools?
16. Lives in a household with domestic violence?
The National Mental Health Association: www.depressionscreening.org
The United States Office of the Surgeon General: www.surgeongeneral.gov
Telephone: (202) 512-1800.
Dear Brother, I cannot even begin to fathom the rewards the Lord must have set up for you in heaven as you compassionately reach out to help our young people. May He bless you in such an awesome and obvious way.