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WHEN I have a bout of depression,” says Anna, “I have no motivation to do anything, not even the things I usually love to do. All I want to do is sleep. I often feel that I am unlovable, worthless, and a burden to others.”
“I thought about suicide,” recalls Julia. “I didn’t really want to die. I just wanted to stop feeling this way. I’m normally a caring person, but when I’m depressed, I care little about anyone or anything.”
Anna and Julia were in their early teens when they first experienced depression. While other young people might occasionally feel down, Anna and Julia had periods of depression that persisted for weeks or months at a time. “It’s like being stuck in a deep, dark hole with no way out,” Anna says. “You feel like you are losing your mind, losing who you are.”
Anna and Julia’s situation is not uncommon. The diagnosis of depression among the young appears to be increasing at an alarming rate, and depression is “the predominant cause of illness and disability for both boys and girls aged 10 to 19 years,” says the World Health Organization (WHO).
The symptoms of depression can appear during adolescence and may include changes in sleep patterns, appetite, and weight. Feelings of despair, hopelessness, sadness, and worthlessness may also appear. Other signs include social withdrawal, trouble concentrating or remembering, suicidal thoughts or actions, and medically unexplained symptoms. When mental-health professionals suspect depression, they usually look for groups of symptoms that persist for weeks and that disrupt a person’s everyday life.
POSSIBLE CAUSES OF TEEN DEPRESSION
According to WHO, “depression results from a complex interaction of social, psychological and biological factors.” These may include the following.
Physical factors. As was true in Julia’s case, depression often runs in families, suggesting that genetics can play a role, perhaps affecting chemical activity in the brain. Other physical risk factors include cardiovascular disease and changing hormone levels, as well as ongoing substance abuse, which may intensify depression, if not give rise to it.
Stress. While a little stress can be healthy, chronic or excessive stress can be physically and psychologically harmful, sometimes to the point of plunging a susceptible, or biologically vulnerable, teen into depression. That said, the exact causes of depression remain unclear and may involve a combination of factors, as mentioned earlier.
Stress-related factors linked to depression may include parental divorce or separation, the death of a loved one, physical or sexual abuse, a serious accident, illness, or a learning disability—especially if a child feels rejected as a result. A related factor may be unrealistically high parental expectations, perhaps in regard to scholastic achievement. Other possible causes are bullying, uncertainty about the future, emotional estrangement by a depressed parent, and parental unpredictability. If depression results, what may help a teen to cope?
Moderate to severe depression is usually managed with medication and counseling by a mental-health professional. Jesus Christ said: “Those who are strong do not need a physician, but those who are ill do.” (Mark 2:17) And illness can affect any part of our body, including our brain! Lifestyle changes may also be advisable because our mind and body are closely connected.
If you suffer from depression, take reasonable measures to care for your physical and mental health. For instance, eat wholesome meals, get sufficient sleep, and exercise regularly. Exercise releases chemicals that can lift your mood, increase your energy, and improve your sleep. If possible, try to recognize triggers and early warning signs of a depressive mood and create a suitable plan of action. Confide in someone you trust. A supportive network of close family members and friends may help you to cope more effectively with your depression, possibly reducing symptoms. Record your thoughts and feelings in a journal—a practice that helped Julia, quoted earlier. Above all, be sure to address your spiritual need. This can greatly improve your outlook on life. Jesus Christ said: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need.”—Matthew 5:3.
Both Anna and Julia attest to Jesus’ words. Anna says: “Spiritual activities make me focus on other people, not just on my own problems. That isn’t always easy, but I am much happier as a result.” Julia finds comfort in prayer and Bible reading. “Pouring out my heart to God in prayer calms me,” she says. “And the Bible helps me to see that I am valuable in God’s eyes and that he really cares about me. Bible reading also gives me a positive view of the future.”
As our Creator, Jehovah God fully understands how our upbringing, experiences in life, and genetic makeup influence our outlook and emotions. He is therefore able to supply needed support and comfort, perhaps doing so through compassionate and understanding fellow humans. Moreover, the time will come when God will heal us of all our illnesses, physical or mental. “No resident will say: ‘I am sick,’” says Isaiah 33:24.
Yes, the Bible promises that God “will wipe out every tear from [our] eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.” (Revelation 21:4) How comforting and reassuring that is! If you would like to learn more about God’s purpose for mankind and the earth, please visit us at jw.org. There you will find an excellent online Bible, as well as articles on a broad range of topics, including depression.