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Adolescent depression must be taken seriously

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Depression: it's something teens hear about all too often. Our generation has grown up in a society that has generally been labeled as "unhappy," and now, as we are growing into adults, it is something we are all starting to experience.

Most teens can deal with this feeling, push past it and make the best of the lives they have. However, some teens begin to feel stressed to the point where it makes them ill and their self-esteem plummets, which in some cases, leads to even more health issues.

When their peers start to notice symptoms, they brush them off, saying it's all for attention, but in reality, it's nothing like that at all. If anything, it's an innocent cry for help.

Adolescent depression is something that affects 10-15 percent of teenagers at any one time. Normally, this includes lack of interest in daily life, minor changes in behavior and low self-image. This type of depression is usually caused by some sort of stress and normally subsides after a short period of time.

For some teens, though -- roughly 5 percent -- these feelings do not go away. If anything, they become worse. These teens can't handle any type of stress anymore and begin to shut down to avoid feelings of sadness and hurt.

This is when the condition develops into what is called major depressive disorder, or major depression. Major depression is defined as a mood disorder where a person experiences one or more episodes of depression for at least two weeks with no signs of mania, meaning that the person is depressed but does not show symptoms of bipolar disorder, which is an entirely different thing. With major depression, the person's only apparent mood will be sadness, which does not seem to subside.

This type of depression doesn't just come out of nowhere, contrary to what people might think. Although the exact cause isn't known, neurochemical and neurophysiological differences between people with and without major depression have been discovered.

People with major depression have been seen to have a smaller hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that stores memories. A smaller hippocampus means less serotonin receptors. Serotonin is a calming brain chemical that acts as a form of communication between the nerves in the brain and the body.

When your serotonin levels are low due to having a lower number of receptors, you begin to feel that lack of interest and pleasure that leads to depression. Depression is also thought to possibly be genetic.

Symptoms of depression include loss or gain of appetite, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, short-term memory loss, chronic fatigue, feelings of sadness and self-loathing, loss of interest in daily life, self-isolation, acting out and often thinking of or discussing suicide.

At this point, teens with depression may feel that there is little reason to keep on going. That is when medical intervention is needed.

The typical method of treating major depression is through therapy and anti-depressants. Often, though, teens don't want to go to therapy because they believe it pinpoints weakness, or they have convinced themselves that it doesn't or won't work. However, the combination of medication and therapy does work and is truthfully the best option once this stage of depression has been reached.

If you are experiencing signs of major depression, it is imperative that you discuss it with a parent, teacher or adult you trust. It must be understood that you are important and that there is no shame in getting help.

Getting that help is a long process that could take a period of years, but it is crucial to your overall health and development. You don't want to remember your teenage years as the worst of your life; you want to remember them as the time of your life.

Major depression is a serious disease. If you have depression, please seek help. You really can turn things around with a little bit of help.

 It may feel hopeless now, but think of how good it will feel when the day comes when you can finally say, "I'm here. I did it, and I'm alive."


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