What is the Main Cause of Depression Amongst Teenagers?
Major depression, also known as clinical depression, is a mood disorder which goes beyond the typical ups and downs of life.
It is not as simple as being in a blue or unhappy mood.
The condition and its symptoms cannot be wished or willed away.
Teenagers with depression cannot simply get over it. Treatment is often needed.
What Causes Depression in Teens?
It is not known exactly what causes depression in teens, but a variety of factors may be involved. These include:
- Brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that carry signals to parts of the brain and body. When these chemicals are abnormal or impaired, the function of nerve receptors and nerve systems changes, leading to depression.
- Hormones. Changes in the body’s balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression.
- Inherited traits. Depression is more common in people whose blood relatives—such as a parent or grandparent—also have the condition.
- Early childhood trauma. Traumatic events during childhood, such as physical or emotional abuse, or the loss of a parent, can cause changes in the brain that make a person more susceptible to depression.
- Learned patterns of negative thinking. Teen depression may be linked to learning to feel helpless rather than learning to feel capable of finding solutions for life’s challenges.
Looking for Risk Factors
While there is no clarity on a singular cause, there are a number of factors known to increase the risk of a teen developing depression.
These risk factors include:
- Having issues that negatively impact self-esteem, such as obesity, peer problems, long-term bullying or academic problems
- Having been the victim or witness of violence, such as physical or sexual abuse
- Having other mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, an anxiety disorder, a personality disorder, anorexia or bulimia
- Having a learning disability or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Experiencing ongoing pain or having a chronic illness such as cancer, diabetes or asthma
- Having certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem or being overly dependent, self-critical or pessimistic
- Abusing alcohol, nicotine or other substances
- Family history such as:
- Having a blood relative with depression, bipolar disorder or substance use disorder
- Having a loved one who died by suicide
- Having a dysfunctional family; experiencing family conflict
- Having stressful family situations such as divorce, military deployment, or the loss of a loved one.
Beyond possible causal and risk factors, other things serve to complicate teen depression. For example:
- Alcohol and drug use
- Academic problems
- Family conflicts and relationship difficulties
- Involvement with the juvenile justice system
- Suicide attempts or suicide
Is Teen Depression Preventable? What Can I Do to Help?
There is no sure way to prevent depression. But as a parent, there are a number of ways you can help your teenager, specifically:
- Maintain open lines of communication; talk openly and honestly with your teen; be compassionate; listen; empathize.
- Offer encouragement; reassure them that depression is a common medical condition and nothing to be ashamed about; remind them of all their wonderful qualities; let them know you are proud of them.
- Give your teen unwavering support; remind them that you are in this with them, whatever it takes, for as long as is needed; reassure them often with words like “I love you” and “I’m here for you.”
Teen Depression is Treatable … and Beatable!
The very good news is that, with treatment, many teenagers who are depressed are able to live healthier and happier lives. Your teenager can discover life beyond depression. And you, as his or her parent, play a vitally important role in loving and supporting your teen.