We’ve all been there: a little (or a lot) in the dumps with nothing specific to pin it on. But there’s a major difference between a downbeat day and depression, and dealing with the latter can be scary, whether you’re going through the ins-and-outs yourself or watching someone you care about struggle.
So how do you know if what you’re feeling is more serious than a case of the sads? Read on to learn how to spot the signs and find the help you need to feel better.
First, the facts
Did you know that teen girls are three times as likely to experience depression than guys of the same age? That trend continues throughout life, too: Of the 15 million people in the U.S. suffering from depression, the majority are women—and about two-thirds of them don’t get the help they need.
Women are not only twice as likely to develop clinical depression as men, but up to one in four women will probably experience a major episode of depression at some point in her life. Plus, new studies show that depressed young women are at higher risk for developing heart disease. Yikes! The good news? With the right kind of help, women not only get better, but they’re able to learn the skills and strategies to cope with depression so if it shows up again, they know how to handle it.
Why are young women so commonly affected?
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Robin Kerner, there’s a myriad of reasons that teen girls have increased rates of depression. On top of all the hormonal changes young women are going through, there are are also biological, genetic, cognitive, and other components that play a part—basically, a lot of factors in a young woman’s life can contribute to depression, from social issues at school to college applications, major life changes, and more. It’s not always possible to pin it on just one thing.
Dr. Kerner also notes that research shows depressed teens may have a family history of depression, or maybe didn’t grow up in a household that encouraged emotional expression (just another reason that it’s important to be able to talk about your issues). Depressed teens also might have physically developed earlier than their friends, which can contribute to self-consciousness as well as body image and self-esteem issues. Traumatic life events can play a part as well, as can a lack of coping skills for overcoming them.
Luckily, identifying the symptoms of depression is step one toward moving on. Here’s how to start…
Seeing the signs in yourself
Depression is a mood disorder, and people who suffer from depression feel persistently sad—depression affects how you think, feel, behave, and express yourself. When you’re depressed, banishing the blues isn’t as easy as just deciding to go out and get over it. It can even feel like a challenge to just get through the day.
Changes in your appetite, your weight, your mood, and your energy can also indicate that something might be not quite right, along with a dependence on substances—we’re talking drugs or alcohol, especially if they’re not things you’ve ever been into before. Sometimes sadness just makes you want to sleep until you feel better (which, unlike when you have the flu, doesn’t actually work). And if you’re skipping out on fun times to stay in bed and even still never seem to be getting quite enough sleep, you might be more than tired: You might be struggling with depression and not even realize it.
Seeing the signs in others
If you notice a friend is going through something rough and isn’t quite herself, keep track of things like whether she stops doing the stuff she normally loves (like missing soccer practice despite the fact that she was psyched to make the team), if she’s especially hard on herself, and if she withdraws socially or starts hanging with a new crew. Those are all indicators that something’s up, but they can be easy to write off as just a bad couple of days. Pay special attention to the longevity of these symptoms: If any of these behaviors have been going on for more than a week, you might want to gently ask her if there’s anything she wants to talk about.
And if you’ve noticed that your BFF has been sporting a serious attitude aimed in your direction combined with any of the above, depression might be to blame. If you’re not clued in to what’s going on, it can be easy to fight back, but try not to—and don’t shy away from discussing how the situation makes you feel with someone else you can trust.
How to broach the topic
According to Dr. Kerner, the best thing you can do when you notice someone else might be showing the signs of depression is start by asking your bud simple, open-ended questions like: “You seem really down lately, which isn’t like you. Can I do something to help you out?” But remember that sometimes people don’t want to discuss their depression because they’re worried that no one will understand, or they’re afraid that what they are feeling is weird and they’ll be judged for it. So if they open up to you: great. If they don’t, it’s important to emphasize that if they decide they do want to talk about what’s going on, you’re going to be there for them. “Your role as a friend is not to have all the answers, it’s just to listen and be supportive,” Dr. Kerner says. “Your friend will feel better just sharing their feelings because one of the biggest problems with depression is that it makes you feel isolated and alone, which makes the depression worse.”
That’s why it’s so important to reach out if you’re dealing with your own issues. Like we said, this is something so many young women struggle with, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Choose the person you know will be supportive, but also objective—someone you truly trust—and start by admitting that you think something might be going on and share how you’ve been feeling. Chances are, that person will be more than willing to listen, and sometimes just saying it out loud is a way to jumpstart dealing with issues you’re tackling in the first place.
But depression is serious business, and it might call for professional help. Therapy, counseling, time with a psychologist, and medication shouldn’t be things you think of as a stigma: They are channels for building the kind of toolkits you need to deal with your problems, not just now but for your whole life. Being able to work with a pro is an opportunity, and—just like when you see any kind of doctor—a means to finding our where your symptoms are coming from and getting better.
When to do something more immediate
Having a friend to talk to when you’re feeling depressed can be really helpful, but it’s important to recognize when whatever you’re dealing starts to put you in serious danger (and to remember that it’s not your fault, and asking for help when you need it is the most responsible thing you can do). Whether you’re away at school or still living at home, there are tons of resources to help you through exactly this type of issue, from guidance counselors to trusted teachers, advisors, and therapists.
If even the smallest part of you suspects that you might do something to hurt yourself, or suspects the same of a friend, play it safe and make an appointment with the most accessible doctor, or call one of the many hotlines created specifically to help teens navigate depression-related crises.
In the case of a friend, “offer to go to the doctor with them for support,” says Dr. Kerner. This helps to emphasize that he or she isn’t alone—and the same goes for you. If you’re not comfortable speaking to a professional on your own, don’t be afraid to enlist a buddy. Moral support is part of the healing process, and knowing there’s someone you can lean on makes all the difference.
Written by Elizabeth Kiefer