What is Depression?

Depression is surprisingly common on the teen journey.  In surveys of high school students conducted across the United States in 2017 approximately 32% of students said they felt so sad or hopeless at some point that they stopped doing some of their usual activities for more than two weeks in a row.  In other words, they suffered from depression.

Why is it So Common?

The teen heroic journey is a tough 10-year journey and it’s a rollercoaster experience with lots of ups and downs.

On that journey you have to let go of the old ways of being a dependent child and discover and master the new ways of independent young adulthood.  And you have to deal with the “inbetweenity” experienced between the old and the new.

You face three core challenges.  You have to form your identity as a young adult (“Who am I?”); you have to develop new and more mature relationships (with peers, parents and romantic partners); and you have to build a wide array of competencies to succeed as a young adult.  Tough challenges.

You will be tested and grow on five levels.  On the journey you will naturally be tested and grow physically, intellectually, emotionally, socially and spiritually.

It’s a rollercoaster experience.  The normal down parts of that rollercoaster ride can include anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, frustration, and sometimes a loss of hope.  Depression, however, is more than feeling sad off and on for a few days.

It is an intense feeling of sadness that lasts much longer and it affects your feelings, thoughts, behaviors and your physical and social well-being.  It can cause a lack of focus and energy that make it hard to function normally and engage in your normal activities.  Depression can, at times, make it feel like it is hard to enjoy life or even get through the day.

Four Key Points About Depression

#1 Teen depression isn’t a weakness or something that can be overcome with just willpower.  Depression is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw.  Well-meaning friends or family members may try to tell you to “just snap out of it” or “stay positive”, but it’s not possible to just snap out of depression.

#2 Depression is a medical illness with strong psychological and social components.  Depression is caused by a combination of biological, psychological and social factors, which means that it can be tough to deal with and recovery is neither easy nor quick – but it certainly is not impossible and it is worth the effort and perseverance.

#3 Most people with depression need help and treatment to get better.  The good news is that, for most teenagers, depression symptoms ease with treatment such as psychological counseling and often medication.  Support from others and actions that you can take on your own also make a major difference.  But, except for mild depression, professional help is necessary to really “get in the game” and defeat depression.

#4 The process of recovering from depression can build a number of critical qualities and capabilities that prepare you for success as a young adult.  It’s actually a pretty impressive list:  courage, perseverance, resilience, creative problem-solving, self-awareness and awareness of others, self-care, the ability to rely on others in appropriate ways, the ability to push past barriers and the ability to develop healthy habits.