Dr. Carol Glod on Teen Depression

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expert_profile_glodDr. Carol Glod, a member of our Advisory Board and Director of Nursing Research at McLean Hospital, conducts studies on adolescent depression and its possible treatments. We asked her to share some insights with us about how common teen depression is, what it looks like, and what parents can do. 

How common is depression in teens?
The prevalence of depression is higher in teens than in children. Two and a half percent of children, six to 12 years of age, have depression, while at least eight percent of teens have depression. Some studies suggest that as many as 20% of teenagers have depression.

How do the symptoms of teen depression differ from adult depression?
Depression is a disorder, and it affects teenagers and children just as it affects adults. We diagnose it using the same criteria that we use for adults, but teenagers usually have some symptoms that are more prominent. Teens with depression:

  • Tend to complain of feeling irritable or grouchy, while adults are more often sad and depressed. For example, a young woman came to my office who was tearful. I asked her one question, and she walked out and slammed the door. This type of irritable behavior is common among teens.
  • Tend to have problems with their sleep. They stay up late, have trouble waking up in the morning, or sleep too much.
  • Don't find their usual activities enjoyable. For example, a teen gives up soccer because; "I just didn't like it anymore." Or, a teen may say, "I don't hang around after school with my friends because they don't like me and I don't like them."
  • May have physical problems, like stomachaches and headaches that can't be explained.
  • May feel suicidal. This is a key symptom that adolescents with depression have. Teens don't always have it, but if they have it, they usually have major depression.
  • May have changes in appetite.
  • May blame their problems on other people (e.g., "My teacher is giving me a hard time.")
  • Show declining school performance (an 'A' student in junior high, all of a sudden is a 'B' and 'C' student).

However, teens with depression don't tend to pull away from their friends, whereas adults tend to withdraw. If you ask most teens with depression if they have friends, and if they are still socializing, they say yes. They may socialize less, or their friends may push them to get out. But they usually don't give up their friendships. If a teen is disconnected from his or her friends, the depression is fairly severe and has been going on a long time.

If a teen ever says that they want to kill themselves, or are thinking about death, this is a serious sign! The person needs to be evaluated immediately. These symptoms are not part of normal adolescence. Some teens are very impulsive, and they tend to confide in their friends, not adults. I had a young girl tell me that she and one of her friends had both been feeling suicidal, and they thought that they might do something together. They had never told anyone before.

How does a parent determine the difference between typical teen rebellious behavior and depression?
Parents typically think that adolescence is a stormy time, with hormonal shifts, so a lot of what gets attributed to normal adolescence can be depression. If you suspect that a teen might have a problem with depression, you need to get a professional evaluation. A teenager may look fine on the outside, but have a lot going on inside. It can be hard for parents to tell. Keep in mind that depression isn't one symptom, it is a group of symptoms, you need to see at least a few signs of depression. Again, if a teen talks of death or suicide, the person needs immediate professional help.

What advice do you have for parents or friends trying to help a teen?
The most important thing is to get help. Get an evaluation from a professional who understands depression and the other psychiatric orders. After the evaluation, you can make a decision about what to do. Do not blame yourself or blame the family. It is a very common notion to think, "I did something wrong," but it is not a result of bad parenting. If the child has diabetes, or mononucleosis, we don't say, "Well the parents weren't there to take care of them," or "The parents did something bad to them." It is the same with depression.

Read the full interview with Dr. Glod, and watch our teen depression webinar to learn how to talk to your teen about your concerns. Hurry, this recorded webinar is only available until January 15th!

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