Healthy Living

5 Things Every Teen Should Know About Depression

03/13/2017 12:25pm ET | Updated March 13, 2017
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20 percent of teens will experience depression before reaching adulthood.

If you’re over 12 and under 20, you already know: it’s not easy being a teen. And if you’re a teenager today, it’s actually harder than ever. Sure, there’s the age-old struggle of dealing with hormones, homework, friends and parents, but as a young person today, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You’re facing issues your parents never dreamed of (and possibly still don’t understand): bullying, substance abuse, gender confusion, sexual pressure, social media, obesity… sound familiar?

When you think about it, it’s no wonder 20 percent of teens will experience depression before they reach adulthood, according to a 2014 study. Whether or not you suffer from depression, anxiety or other disorders, there are a few things you should know about your mental health.

It’s more than “feeling down.”

When you have depression, it’s easy to feel like something’s wrong with you, because, well, it is. Depression is a brain disorder – it’s not a “bad mood.” The symptoms and effects of depression aren’t just in your head, either. Teens with depression are more likely to experience health issues – from insomnia to obesity to back pain, appetite changes and lethargy. But guess what? Once you accept that depression is a sickness of the brain that can be treated, it loses some of its power. The first step is getting help.

It can lead to suicide.

According to the CDC, 17 percent of high school students have seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months. That’s a scary statistic. In my new book, R U OK?, I explain that most people – teens included – who attempt or complete suicide have depression. Treating depression and other mental health disorders isn’t just about feeling better – although that’s certainly important – it’s about saving your life. And if you know someone with depression, it might be time to ask them a simple question: R U OK?

It’s not you.

Your teenage years are rough, and sometimes it’s hard to feel like yourself when you’re not even sure who that is. Here’s the thing: when you have depression, you’re not yourself, because depression is a liar. Having depression is like wearing sunglasses in a dark room – it completely obscures your vision. You’re not seeing things – or situations – as they really are. That’s why it’s important to get an objective view. Now is not the time to worry about disappointing your parents. Chances are they’ll be supportive and get you the help you need.

Talking about it can save your life.

Depression and suicide aren’t exactly trending topics. But when you avoid the issue, you allow the illness to maintain its power – and you’re choosing to tackle it (or not) alone. Even if you don’t feel comfortable talking to your parents about it, there are resources available to you. Your friends and family are your primary lifelines, but your family doctor, teachers and community leaders will all hear you out. Really, it doesn’t matter who you talk to as long as you do it. And if you’re worried about a friend or family member, you can start the conversation. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple question: R U OK?

There is hope.

Hope is a big word – a big, critical word. Hope is an attitude of optimism, allowing you to expect positive outcomes in your life. You know depression is a liar, but it’s also a thief. Depression robs you of hope. Living without hope means living in a world where you expect the worst, all the time. Even if you can’t feel hope right now, it’s important for you to know there is reason to hope. Whatever your situation, whatever you’re dealing with, you have people who care about you. Make small goals to help you increase your sense of hope on a daily basis. These can be as simple as reading or writing down an inspiring quote, or making plans with a friend and following through. R U OK? If you’re not, it’s time to tell someone. Learn more at thegriefgirl.com.

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National
Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free,
24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please
visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database
of resources.