Tough Stuff

Are you sad or depressed? Here's how to tell

Depression is no laughing matter—and neither is simple sadness. The National Institute for Mental Health says about 11 percent of adolescents have some form of diagnosed depression by the time they hit 18. And oft-linked suicide is the third leading cause of death for girls and guys ages 15 to 24. Bottom line: depression is a serious topic we need to talk about. Let’s start at the beginning: what is depression, and what makes it different from being sad?

Sadness is normal

Most humans feel it, some more frequently than others. It’s what you feel when life doesn’t go your way, when you’re disappointed, when you’re hurt, when you’re betrayed. It’s linked to grief, though grief can be longer-lasting and can tend to dull other emotions in the same way depression can.

So when someone says “I feel so depressed,” what do they really mean?

A lot of the time, they mean they feel sad. Or disappointed. Or hurt. A lot of people hyperbolize—or exaggerate—their feelings and experiences to make them appear more dramatic than they are. That’s not to say sadness is trivial—it’s certainly not. But just because a friend says she’s depressed doesn’t mean she is.

OK, then what’s depression?

Doctors use a book called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM for short) for the official classifications of mental disorders. A depressive disorder (sometimes called major depression) goes on for far longer than typical sadness. It is constant and unbroken by spurts of happiness or laughter. It affects everything: the way you sleep, the way you think, the way you feel. It can drastically alter your behavior, make you lost interest in hobbies and activities you used to love and make you apathetic to life in general. You might feel hopeless or guilty. You might feel that life is not worth living. You might not have the energy to get out of bed. And it can last a really, really long time.

How can I tell if my friend is (or I am) depressed?

Here are some common signs the docs use to decide if you might have major depression:

+ You are withdrawn from friends and families

+ You are angry when you typically are not

+ You are failing in school and don’t care

+ You lose weight (about 5 percent of your standard mass)

+ You develop insomnia

+ You stop doing things you love

+ You don’t talk about your feelings

+ You consider or attempt suicide

+ You consider or attempt self harm

Is there some sort of treatment?

You bet. Half of adults struggling with depression are not treated, but there are medications and other therapies that can make you feel like yourself again. You should always speak to your doctor before trying anything, and to get a referral for a specialist in mental health or a therapist. Recent studies find that teens respond the best to a combination of medications and psychotherapy.

But…it’s kind of embarrassing, admitting you have a mental health problem…

Yeah, it might be. But it SHOULDN’T be. Millions of people suffer from the same problems and feelings and thoughts you do, through no fault of their own. Any problem you’re having is NOT your fault, but there are things you can do to feel better. So why not do them? If you’re not comfortable talking about it with others, discuss it with an adult you can trust not to spill the beans, like a doctor or counselor. One of society’s biggest problems is the way it views mental health issues. We need to make it clear that diseases like depression are no different from broken bones and asthma and diabetes—they need to be treated like the illnesses they are.

So please, if you’re feeling like you might be depressed, or simply want to talk about what’s going on inside your head, don’t hesitate to do so. You can even do it anonymously and confidentially. We’re big fans of The Trevor Project. You can call their toll-free hotline 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386. You can text their professionals, chat live online and talk with other teens like you in their web forums.

Talk out what you think and feel about depression and mental health in the comments, cuties, but please be respectful of each other.


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by Brittany Taylor | 2/1/2016