Depression in the Eyes of Our Youth

As a board certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist, I treat youth with depression almost every day.  Major Depressive Disorder, the medical term for clinical depression, is a debilitating illness that affects 12.5% of US youth aged 12 to 17 according to the National Institute of Mental Health. This means that, in 2015, 3 million teens had experienced at least one major depressive episode.

The signs and symptoms of depression include

  • sad mood and/or irritability
  • crying spells
  • too much or too little sleep
  • weight loss or weight gain secondary to changes in appetite
  • worthless and hopeless feelings
  • fatigue
  • difficulty concentrating
  • thoughts of suicide

Many young people also become much more withdrawn and isolative, no longer wish to hang out with their friends or do the things they used to enjoy, seem more irritable and easily agitated than sad and down, engage in risky behaviors (drugs, alcohol, sex), start cutting themselves as a way to cope with their emotional pain, miss school because they just "feel bad," or struggle academically.

A few weeks ago, I saw a teenage girl at my practice who shared with me a very beautifully written and poignant letter that she penned to her "depression."  I am sharing this letter with you today, with her permission, to illustrate the agony of depression:

"Dear Depression,

You need to leave me alone already. Everyday you're screaming at me and telling me how terrible I am. You make me replay every mistake I've ever made, and you humiliate me on a daily basis. You've made it impossible to be happy or have any connection with my friends and family. I am sick of you controlling me. The sooner you leave, the better off I'll be. Don't come back either. I never want you to be a part of my life again. I hate you, and I hate myself for every letting you in my head"

As a parent and child psychiatrist, I implore you - pay attention to your children. Don't chalk up their negativity and irritability to just a "bad attitude," especially if you see any of the other warning signs. Talk to your children. Ask them what's going on. Let them know you are interested and available to talk. And, most importantly, get help.