According to the Mayo Clinic, more than 2.5 million adolescents report having major depressive episodes in the year 2021 alone. Depressive episodes can range from mild to severe, and vary in the amount of time it persists per episode and amount of episodes in one’s daily life.
Another form of depression is clinical depression, which is categorized as more severe as it is generally experienced for a longer period of time. Especially due to the isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic and unstable changes to students' academic life, mental health issues are more common in adolescents. The sheer number of people that experience mental health issues shows how we need to be able to discuss these conditions more effectively to be able to provide better prevention and intervention.
A common myth that people believe about depression is that you can obviously tell if someone has depression/depressive episodes. Although there are certainly a large number of people that experience depression in the way that’s most commonly known (through sadness and isolation), depression presents itself in multiple ways. Depression can present through symptoms such as fatigue, chronic physical aches/pains, lack of appetite, inability to concentrate or remember, lack of sleep, etc. Granted, these symptoms are also vague and one cannot definitively be diagnosed with depression just by presenting most or all of these symptoms, as these symptoms may also be indicative of other health issues.
This myth is especially harmful to teens because their emotions are usually attributed to their age and personality rather than a mental health issue. In addition, by attributing a teen’s mood swings and emotions to their personality, it creates a cycle of a self fulfilled prophecy. It’s really common to miss symptoms of depression in adolescents, and untreated, the symptoms may become more frequent and severe. The only definitive way to know if a teen is experiencing depression is by talking with a healthcare provider. I
How can we be a better support system for others?
- Avoid using “depression” as a pop culture reference. The word “depression” describes a clinical diagnosis, whereas “depressed” describes a general feeling of sadness and/or in the context of someone diagnosed. It’s important to understand the differences between these two in order to be able to easily identify people that may actually need intervention.
- Don’t compare mental health issues. Depression, and other mental health issues are very relative. An experience that may not feel important to one person, may be painful or uncomfortable to another.
- Ask someone how you can help them. Oftentimes, it seems easy to just offer advice or resources to people we know that may want help. It’s important to center their experience around them and empower them by asking what specific kind of support from you would help them
- Draw on personal experience. If you are someone who has also experienced mental health issues, it may be helpful for you to relate that to others experiences to co-develop peer support.
- Don’t force someone to talk. There may be periods where it seems helpful to be in the know about someone’s life, but it can feel pressuring and uncomfortable for others on the receiving end. Being forced to talk is harmful to truly developing trust in your relationship.
We hope you can use these tips to be more open to a friend or loved one’s mental health struggles by framing it as a health condition. Learn more about youth mental health and find resources to support yourself or someone you care about!