Teenage Depression

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. (McCoy 46-48) 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