As many as one in thirteen adolescents experience symptoms of depression at some time. The condition can be deceptively difficult for parents to recognize, however, and not only because teens often adhere to a don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy when it comes to expressing their emotions. While some kids become depressed for reasons that are obvious to you, such as a romantic breakup, a death in the family or academic failure or disappointment, others can sink into profound depression without any apparent cause—just as adults do.
Yet another confounding feature of depression in teenagers: Unlike adults, they may not act sad at all. Some children seem high-strung, and they frequently get into trouble. The misbehavior often leads to misdiagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a learning disorder or a conduct disorder.
Depression is classified as major or minor. The definitive diagnosis of major depression is based on a patient’s exhibiting deep despair and at least four of six other classic symptoms for two weeks or more. Minor depression, or dysthymia (pronounced dis-thim-ee-uh), on the other hand, can persist for some time, without producing overt symptoms or interfering too much with the person’s daily functioning. A child may become so used to this background hum of depression that she comes to accept her blue mood as normal. According to several studies, many kids mired in mild depression eventually experience an episode of major depression typically lasting seven to nine months.
Depression and Gender: If Boys are the Warriors, Girls are the Worriers
Rates of depression among boys and girls are relatively equal up until age eleven or so. During adolescence, though, girls become twice as likely as boys to experience bouts of depression. Why? Probably for the same reason that depression is twice as common among adult women than adult men: They’re conditioned to be more reflective about themselves and their lives. In a poll of 615 California teens, the boys out-fretted the girls on only one issue: excelling at sports and other activities. The girls felt more anxious about virtually every other matter listed on the questionnaire: appearance, popularity, personal problems, safety, friendships, romance, family problems and whether or not they were a good person.