By Cathy Fitzpatrick-Platt
Depression affects approximately 2 percent of children nationwide and 6 percent of teenagers at any given time, according to Dr. Shashank V. Joshi, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford School of Medicine.
"Twenty to 25 percent will have experienced depression of some sort by the time they graduate from high school," Joshi said, describing this depression as feeling in a sad mood for more than a few days. Most bounce back and continue with normal activities and friendships.
But for some, the depression lingers. And many teens will suffer in silence, as, according to Joshi, they often don't talk about their own depression, what he calls a "brain-based medical condition."
The cause of this painful disorder? According to the Stanford University Depression Research Clinic website, the exact cause of depression is still unknown, but biological, psychological and environmental factors can be contributors. It is thought that an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine, can contribute to some people's depression. Antidepressants target biological causes associated with an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain.
"The neurotransmitter story is not the whole story. ... There are areas of the brain that can change with talk therapy," Joshi said. Treatments for mild to moderate depression include cognitive behavioral, or talk, therapy, he said, while moderate to severe depression is treated with a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
What do you do? Pay attention, Joshi recommends. If a teen is in a sad mood for a week or more, shows a loss of interest or withdrawal from friends, and is no longer doing what she likes to do, ask questions. Talk to the teen's primary care provider or school counselor. Read about depression. Go to the Heard Alliance website (where there are questionnaires, under resources, and educational information on depression, mood disorders, anxiety, and more), and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website.
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