If suspect your teen may be depressed, it is important that they see a doctor immediately. Left untreated, depression can often lead to serious consequences, such as alcohol and drug abuse, reckless sexual behavior and even suicide. Studies show that teens who suffer from depressive tendencies are up to 12 times more likely to commit suicide than those who do not.
Treatment for depression in adolescents is prescribed on a case-by-case basis and usually includes a combination of psychotherapy and medication. In rare and severe cases, hospitalization in a psychiatric ward may be necessary. Your teen’s doctor can help you and your teen find a course of treatment that works best for him or her.
If your doctor recommends psychotherapy for your teenager, experts recommend finding a trained psychologist or psychiatrist — preferably one who specializes in the treatment of adolescents. There are several different types of psychotherapy techniques used to treat teen depression, including cognitive behavioral therapy, which aims to change the teen’s way of thinking, and interpersonal therapy, which analyzes a teen’s relationships with family and friends. Doctors may also use talk therapy, in which they engage the teen in conversation in order to understand their thoughts, emotions and behaviors, and to identify possible environmental stressors. Your doctor may recommend that the teen attend the sessions alone, or that family members be included.
For many teens, psychotherapy may be successful in treating their depression. However, in some cases, a doctor may also recommend medication for your teen. Certain antidepressants, such as Prozac, have been shown to be an effective and safe short-term course of treatment for adolescents when closely monitored by a medical professional. FDA regulations require teenagers taking antidepressants to see their doctor once a week for the first month of treatment, every two weeks for the second month and at the end of the third month.
In some teenagers, including those with bipolar disorder, a family history of mental illness or previous suicide attempts, antidepressant medication may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior. Talk to your doctor about any concerns you might have. If your teen’s treatment plan includes anti-depressants, a doctor should thoroughly evaluate your teen’s mental history before he or she starts taking medication. Risk of suicide is highest during the first two months of taking medication — be sure to monitor your teenager closely for any behavior that could indicate suicidal thoughts.
If your teen’s course of treatment is working properly, their depressive symptoms should subside within two to three months. If your teen’s symptoms don’t seem to be improving, or they appear to be worsening, you and your teen should talk to your doctor about what’s working and what’s not, and make a decision together about how to move forward with treatment.
Many teens who struggle with depression are left feeling confused, isolated and even hopeless. As a parent, it’s important to let your teen know that they’re not going through this alone — let them know that you’re there to listen to and support them, and that you care.
As your teen begins treatment, stay involved. Help to guide your teenager through the process, ensure that they’re taking any prescribed medication as instructed and monitor any improvements or changes in their symptoms or behavior.
It’s especially crucial that you maintain that involvement as your teen’s depression symptoms start to lift. Research has shown that up to 50 percent of teens who experience a depressive episode go on to experience depression as an adult, and up to 70 percent of depressed teens experience more than one episode before they reach adulthood. Continue to check in with your teen and maintain open and honest communication about how they’re feeling. Follow up on anything that seems out of the ordinary immediately — dealing with the problem directly is the only way to get your teen the help they need.
“Depression in teens can sometimes be vague, but if you suspect your child or student could be suffering from it, no matter how minor or severe the symptoms, please seek help for them,” Sanvitale said. “The sooner, the better.”
Published January 14, 2013.
Jennifer Lazuta recently earned her Master's degree from the Medill School of Journalism and is a Chicago-based freelance writer.