Depressed Teens: Early Treatment May Prevent Future Episodes

Parents of teenagers often miss depression in their children because of how tumultuous the emotions are in this season of life. Unsure whether or not to seek psychiatric help--and sometimes embarrassed to do so--some parents just take a "wait it out" approach, hoping that unsettling moods and behaviors will pass as their children mature. However, a new study suggests it is of critical importance to seek treatment now so as to prevent lifelong recurrences of depressive episodes.

Is it depression?

You may first wonder if your teen is depressed--or just being a teenager. While it is true that adolescence is fraught with emotional responses to minor triggering events, depression is a genuine occurrence in millions of teenagers each year. In 2012, 2.2 million American teens experienced at least one episode of major depression. Here are some of the symptoms of adolescent depression:

  • pervasive sadness that lasts more than two weeks

  • irritable mood or outbursts of anger

  • change in eating or sleeping habits

  • withdrawal from social activities (or, conversely, spending an inordinate amount of time with a new peer group)

  • expressing feelings of hopelessness

  • statements indicating suicidality

While this is not an exhaustive list of symptoms, these are frequent "red flag" signals of depression.

Hippocampus: brain area linked to depression

Results of a huge international study just published in Medical News Today (MNT) point to a link between depression and an area of the brain called the hippocampus.

Specifically, researchers found that depression is more likely to occur in people who have a small hippocampus. Further, those who suffered from recurrent depression were more likely to have a smaller hippocampus than those who had only experienced one depressive episode. And lastly, those who experienced depression for the first time before the age of 21 were more likely to have a small hippocampus than those whose first episode happened after their formative years.

Early treatment is critical

It is possible that untreated depression early in life may cause brain changes that lead to recurrent episodes throughout one's lifetime. Therefore, the study's co-author urges clinical treatment during the first episode of depression, especially if it occurs during childhood or adolescence. This may prevent changes in the hippocampus that could lead to a lifetime of depressive episodes.

If you think your teen may be depressed, you can start by making an appointment with the pediatrician. If your insurance does not require a referral from a primary care provider, you can call the behavioral health department of your health care system and make a psychiatry appointment. If you do not have health insurance, a community clinic like Comprehensive Behavioral Health Associates Inc can screen your child and refer you to a therapist who counsels on a sliding scale or low-cost basis. Help is out there--use it now so your teen has the best chance at a bright future.