<< Held down by depression

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L.A. Youth talked to Dr. Margaret Stuber, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and professor at UCLA, about depression in teens

L.A. Youth: What is depression?
Dr. Margaret Stuber: Regular depression is usually sadness in response to something that’s happened, like you get a bad grade or you have a breakup. With major depression, in addition to having that sadness, you also have physical symptoms. You have problems with sleep. That can be that you’re sleeping all the time or you have trouble getting to sleep. It affects your appetite. Some people will eat all the time trying to comfort themselves. Or they can have no appetite at all. The third physical symptom is a difficulty with attention and energy levels. You have trouble getting your mind on anything. You have no energy, everything seems like it’s too much work to do.

lllllSomeone who is depressed can’t seem to enjoy anything, even close friends. It gets really serious when there are persistent feelings of hopelessness and guilt. You feel like this is never going to get better and “I’m not worth anything.” When you have a breakup, you may feel like nobody will ever love me but usually other people can talk you out of that. When you’re really depressed, even being surrounded by people who love you doesn’t convince you that you’re loveable.

How common is depression among teens?
Regular depression, just feeling sad, is really common in teens. Teens tend to be very moody. When somebody is just really sad it isn’t serious depression. It has to last at least two weeks for us to be really worried about it.

How can I help a friend who is depressed?
Try to help distract them and reassure them. With a situational kind of depression that’s going to be helpful—just knowing they have support and they’re not alone and reminders that this isn’t the end of the world even though it feels that way. If someone is hopeless or saying life isn’t worth living or they’re dropping out of everything they used to enjoy and it goes on longer than a week or two, they really need help.

When do you tell someone instead of keeping a friend’s trust?
If your friend is talking about dying or feeling like they wish they could go to sleep and never wake up, it’s worth talking to them about it. If they’re cutting themselves or if they are talking a lot about dying, you might even bypass talking to them and tell one of your teachers that you’re really worried. If you think that your friend is in danger of killing themselves, it’s better to lose a friend you love temporarily than lose them permanently.

If a teen feels depressed, how can they get help?
If they can talk to their parent that’s going to be really good. There’s usually somebody at school they can talk to, like the school nurse or school counselor. There are also teen hotlines and suicide hotlines. (You can call Teen Line at 1-800-TLC-TEEN to speak with a trained teen peer counselor from 6 to 10 p.m. If you have thoughts of hurting yourself, call a suicide prevention hotline at 1-877-7CRISIS.)

What is anxiety?
There is often anxiety that goes with depression. Your heart rate goes up and you’re more jumpy. You feel anxious and you’re worried about things that haven’t happened or having arguments in your head, like “This is never going to get better” or “Nobody likes me” or “I can’t give this talk in class because what if I say something stupid?” All these what ifs.