Teen depression creates silent epidemic

Michelle Chong, Co-Editor in chief

Suicide is the third leading cause of death in teenagers. 90 percent of people who attempt or commit suicide suffer from a mental illness, which includes depression. Today’s teenagers face more risk factors for suicide than the previous generations, according to teendepression.org

Teen depression is a mental disorder that affects the emotions, thoughts and behaviors and is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Chemically, there is no difference between teen depression and depression found in adults; however the factors and symptoms of teen depression are unique to adolescents, according to Mayo Clinic.

Symptoms include insomnia, hypersomnia, intense feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities that were formerly enjoyable.

“The campus counselors have training in helping students specifically with these types of issues, but if you don’t feel comfortable going to one of them, then I think the best place to go is to an adult you trust,” AP Psychology teacher Amy McConnell said. “This can be anyone you feel comfortable sharing these emotions and feelings with. Even if it is a peer, it is important to talk to someone. When feeling dark emotions, young people often believe others couldn’t possibly understand what they are feeling, but in truth many people can relate and will want to offer their support and help. Don’t keep these feelings to yourself.”

According to counselor Bronda Goates, the   pressure to succeed is a lot more intense than it has been in the past, which can be a factor in teen depression. There are many other factors that can lead to depression, such as recent increases in cyberbullying.

“Technology has made it so easy to say what you want without saying it to their face,” Goates said. “Some people are very brave when they don’t have to say it to their face. So they can text someone, email somebody, or put it on Facebook or whatever so they don’t have to sit there and look at that person. They’re freer to bully. So that’s why cyberbullying has become an issue.”

Goates says depression can be described as feeling hopeless and helpless which can lead to thoughts of suicide.

“Strictly talking about depression – they’re just down and feel like the world is against them, they feel heavy and they don’t know how to get out of it,” Goates said. “Even when there are tools to help them [recover], sometimes they don’t have the energy to use those tools. So with that in mind, that’s why people have to reach out to help them. Because [depression is] just what they call a spiral downhill basically.”

Those with depression may also make drastic life-style choices as well as exhibit major physical changes such as losing or gaining weight.

“They quit going out as much, they really don’t want any help and want to be alone,” Goates said. “Sometimes they’re crying for help in another way and are real needy. It really is just an individual thing. But I do know, overall, that anyone who speaks of depression feels like if you’re looking out there it can be someone who is there but not really there. Or you see them alone a lot and they’re just in their own world. And to the point that they’re not even going respond.”

Students experiencing symptoms are advised to talk to a trusted confidante as well as consult with a medical doctor in order to be fully evaluated.

Other resources include the SafetyNet system in place – any student with a problem, concern or issue can turn in a form anonymously and it will be addressed accordingly by the school administration.

“Definitely go [to a] teacher, come to one of [the counselors], go to an administrator, go to someone – or [a] parent – we always encourage talking to your parent,” Goates said. “But definitely, don’t keep it to yourself. Let us be your resources. Let us help you. Don’t try to tackle this on your own. It’s always good to have a good friend to talk to. Everybody has a down day, now and then. But if you have continual down days, then chances are, that friend will not be able to be your fixer-upper and you’ll need other tools. So let us be your tools.”

Katy ISD has licensed counselors at the district level available as well, but in order for a student to receive help from one, they need to consult with the counselors on campus first. From there, they will evaluate the needs of the student and request the necessary help.

“Many times we assess and we figure out what we need,” Goates said. “Is this okay? Are we getting there? Or do we need to bring in outside resources?”

 Depression is a medical condition that constitutes a serious concern for students. According to Goates, depression is not a myth and cries for help should not be overlooked.

“To think that ‘oh well they probably will not’ or ‘they are just faking it’ – it just always needs to be addressed,” Goates said. “So the myth of ‘[depression is] something that everyone says they are or ‘that it’s not real’ is a myth because it’s generally not. It’s the way someone feels and they don’t want to feel that way.”

The most important way to treat someone who may have symptoms of depression, according to McConnell, is to listen unconditionally and allow them to talk freely about what they may be feeling or their struggles without fear of being judged.

“We all feel things differently and in varying degrees,” McConnell said. “This is reality to them, so do not disregard the intensity of their emotions. It is important to let the person know that you want to talk to them again and plan a chance to visit with them again. If you feel that there is a potentially dangerous situation developing, finding an adult that you trust is very important in order to discuss your concerns.”