Types of Depression Commonly Found in Teens

Depression is common during adolescence and it may look different in teens than adults. Teens often seem more irritable than sad when they're depressed.

But, not all depression is created equal. The word depression is used to describe a variety of conditions. There are four main types of depression that commonly affect teenagers. Recognizing the signs and symptoms can be key to getting a teen treatment. And early intervention can often be key to successful treatment. 

1. Adjustment Disorder With Depressed Mood

An adjustment disorder occurs in response to a life event. Moving to a new school, the death of a loved one or dealing with a parents’ divorce are examples of changes that can spur an adjustment disorder in teens.

Adjustment disorders begin within a few months of the event and may last up to six months. If symptoms persist beyond six months, another diagnosis would be more appropriate.

Although brief in nature, adjustment disorders can interfere with sleep, school work, and social functioning.

Your teen may benefit from talk therapy to teach him new skills or help him cope with the stressful situation.

2. Dysthymia

Dysthymia is a low grade, chronic depression that lasts for more than a year. Teens with dysthymia are often irritable and they may have low energy, low self-esteem, and feelings of hopelessness.

Their eating habits and sleeping patterns may also be disturbed. Frequently, dysthymia interferes with concentration and decision making. It's estimated that 4 out of every 100 teens meet the diagnostic criteria.

Although dysthymia isn’t as severe as major depression, the long duration can take a serious toll on a teen’s life. It can interfere with learning, socialization, and overall functioning. Dysthymia also makes a teen more susceptible to other mood disorders later in life. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication are often very effective in treating dysthymia. 

3. Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of depression followed by periods of mania or hypomania (a less severe form of mania). Symptoms of mania include a reduced need for sleep, difficulty focusing, and a short-temper.

During a manic episode, a teen is likely to talk fast, feel very happy or silly, and be willing to engage in risky behavior. Many teens engage in high-risk sexual behavior during a manic episode.

Teens with bipolar disorder will likely experience significant impairment in their daily functioning.

Their severe mood changes interfere with their education and friendships. Bipolar is treatable but not curable. Bipolar is usually best treated with a combination of medication and therapy.

4. Major Depression 

Major depression is the most serious form of depression. It is estimated that 8 percent of teens meet the criteria for major depression, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Younger children have about equal rates of depression based on gender. After puberty, however, girls are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression.

Symptoms of major depression include persistent sadness and irritability, talk about suicide, a lack of interest in enjoyable activities and frequent reports of physical aches and pains. Major depression can cause severe impairments at home and at school. Treatment usually involves therapy and may include medication.

Treatment for Depression

Unfortunately, many teens go undiagnosed and untreated. Often, adults don't recognize the signs of depression in young people.

If you notice changes in your teen's mood or behavior that lasts longer than two weeks, schedule an appointment with the doctor.

Express your concerns and describe the symptoms that you're seeing. Make it clear to your teen that you don't think she's weak or crazy. Instead, talk about a mental health issue the same way you would discuss a physical health problem.

Explain that emotional problems need healing the same way physical health problems do. And sometimes, depression requires an exam and treatment beyond what you're able to do at home.

Your child's physician may refer you to a psychotherapist or a psychiatrist for further assessment and treatment. Talk therapy, family therapy, group therapy, and medication may be treatment options. Treatment will be based on the type of depression your teen has and the severity of her symptoms.

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