The teen years are an emotional roller coaster complicated by hormonal changes and the transition between childhood and becoming an adult. Though most emerge from the teen years without complication, approximately 1 in 5 teens will develop depression at some point between the ages of 13 and 19, with an average age of onset at 14 years old.
Unfortunately, many of these teens go undiagnosed, never receiving the treatment they need for depression. Left untreated by health professionals, a teen may begin to self-medicate with substances like drugs and alcohol.
Understanding Teen Depression
Depression is a mental health disorder characterized by feelings of sadness, unhappiness, hopelessness and even guilt. Though any teen can develop depression, those with a family history of mood disorders and those who have experienced a stressful life event are at highest risk. Depression is also more common in girls and teens with learning disabilities, chronic illness, or an unstable home life.
Some teenagers may hide their feelings of depression or refuse to talk about their feelings. However, depression is often evident through other symptoms, which may look different than the symptoms of depression in adults. Examples include:
- Unusual sleeping patterns
- Weight and appetite changes
- Low energy and increased fatigue
- Poor academic performance
- Lack of interest in hobbies, activities or relationships that were once important
- Sensitive to criticism
- Thoughts of suicide
Depression is a serious problem in teens that, though treatable with therapy and medication, goes untreated in approximately 4 out of 5 teens that have it. Often, teens that are hurting look to drugs or alcohol to make themselves feel better. Alcohol may numb feelings of sadness or hopelessness, whereas a drug can stimulate a teen’s brain to produce ‘feel good’ hormones that make them feel normal and improve mood.
However, though substances can mask symptoms in the short term, they only damage the central nervous system and worsen depression over time. A co-occurring mental health disorder and substance abuse disorder is much more complicated to treat than depression alone.
The more a teen uses substances to self-medicate for depression, the more likely he or she is to become addicted. That is why parents should be as vigilant about a child’s mental health as they are their physical wellness. Parents should encourage teens to talk about their feelings, or otherwise arrange an opportunity for them to talk with someone else they can trust, such as a psychologist or guidance counselor.
Treating Depression and Drug Abuse in Teens
Parents who suspect their child is depressed should seek out the help of a mental wellness professional who can provide healthy treatment of depression and give teens the tools they need to manage a mental health disorder. If depression has already escalated to drug abuse, a teenager may need treatment for a co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorder.
Often, parents mistake the need for professional treatment with a need for more discipline or boundaries. However, discipline does not treat depression and will do little to manage a behavioral disorder like substance abuse. If you suspect that your teenager is depressed and abusing drugs or alcohol, get professional help right away.
Find a substance abuse treatment center near you that specializes in the treatment of teens with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders today.
To learn more about teen depression and drug use, give us a call at 877-466-0620. We can provide support if your teen is struggling.