From 2005 to 2014, the prevalence of depression in adolescents and young adults has been increasing, according to a recent study published in Pediatrics. And at the same time, teenagers are more likely to die from suicide than from an injury sustained in a car accident, according to data from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Pediatrics study, published in November 2016, examined the 12-month prevalence of major depressive episodes (MDEs) in adolescents and young adults.
While depression is a biological condition with genetic, psychological and social components impacting it, stress tends to be a trigger for at least the first episode in which someone experiences depression.
Stress is the buzzword of the 21st Century
Adults are burdened by greater responsibilities these days, as are children and adolescents. Many of the children and adolescents with higher levels of depression in the study were older adolescents, non-students, unemployed, in households without parents and using substances.
While there are variables we cannot control, there are lifestyle strategies we can implement to fight stress, relax more and prevent medical conditions, including depression.
When is it depression?
The most important intervention to help your child if you have concerns about their mental health is to learn and understand the warning signs of depression in children and adolescents. While many of us may attribute a teen’s opposition to simply being a teen, it may be helpful to see if they are struggling more than what we see on the surface.
There can be more behind a teen’s opposition
To diagnose depression, physicians rely on an evaluation of the person where he or she has to experience depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure for two weeks, in addition to having five of the following symptoms:
- Depressed mood most of the day, which in children and adolescents could be irritable mood,
- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in most activities,
- Significant weight loss or gain,
- Insomnia or hypersomnia,
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation,
- Fatigue or loss of energy,
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt,
- Decreased ability to think or concentrate or
- Recurrent thoughts of death.
This is the criteria physicians use for diagnosing depression from the Desk Reference to the Diagnostic Criteria from DSM-5.
The four pillars of health
Lack of structure in our physiological needs and disregarding our biological rhythms directly affects our mood, health, and overall degree of health and wellness.
I call these the four pillars of health, which include nutrition, exercise, relaxation and sleep. Healthy food will help us fuel our biological needs from the get go. With the right nutrition, we can then have the energy we need for our activities, including intellectual and physical such as exercise.
The four pillars of health: nutrition, exercise, relaxation and sleep
With the right level of activity, it is equally important to find ways to relax, whether this is through breaks, listening to music, or just enjoying the moment without being busy.
The best way to transition to good sleep is if we are in a relaxed state, otherwise, the day’s tension is carried into the night.
Adolescents usually struggle with good nutrition and sleep, and may also have fewer hours of physical activity, which impacts their ability to release energy in healthy ways. And with the increased pressure to do well in school from an early age, they have a heightened level of stress.
Worrying a bit about not doing well or failing a test may give us the push to study and do better—too much stress may lead to burnout and depression.
What can be done
While some children and adolescents with depression may have parents with a history of depression, others may be the first to experience depression in their family. Early detection and intervention may help prevent the worsening of the condition.
How can we help children and adolescents with depression?
- Learn about depression. Become familiar with this medical condition and consult your trusted healthcare practitioner if you are concerned.
- Ensure your child has the best healthy structure following the Four Pillars of Health concept: start with a nutritious breakfast, followed by lunch, snacks and dinner. Help your child stay physically active during the day but allow your child to relax between very demanding periods. If they seem to be continually doing homework, make sure they can take some breaks and rest. The best way to transition to sleep is by being in a healthy relaxed state prior to going to bed. If you are concerned about your child being depressed, consult your pediatrician or family practitioner. They may evaluate the child themselves or refer to a psychiatrist for an evaluation.
- Check with the school: talk to your child’s teachers, see how they are doing in school. Inquire about their studies in addition to their meals, physical activity, recess and interaction with other kids. Share with them if you are concerned about your child and ask for feedback.
- Psychotherapy: Your child may benefit from speaking with a counselor, social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. These specialized professionals are trained to evaluate and treat children and adolescents, while building healthy ways of dealing with stressful situations.
- Medication therapy: Medication can be safe and effective in treating children and adolescents with moderate to severe levels of depression on an as-needed basis.
As a caring parent, we understand how concerned you must be about your child’s health and wellness. Depression is a treatable medical condition that requires prompt and effective treatment. Please consult your trusted healthcare professional if you need additional information or for an evaluation.