What is teenage depression and how can psychology help?
There is a lot of public discussion about teenage depression and suicide these days. As a psychologist, I tend to think it is good that people are at least talking about it.
A few weeks ago, my teenage daughter had a few friends over and I asked what they would want to know from a psychologist if they could ask anything. They said it would be helpful to know what depression actually is. The group explained that there is a lot of media hype about depression, but not many useful things about what it is or perhaps more importantly, what to do about it. They also said that most of the information they could find was aimed at the parents of depressed teens, not teens themselves – and that made it seem as though you can’t do anything about it.
But of course you can!
What is depression?
So here goes – When I meet somebody in my work as a psychologist who describes themselves as depressed, I find it useful to help them group what they are feeling into four different areas.
First, there are the feelings that people experience. Most people think depression is about feeling sad – which it can be – but most depressed people also describe feeling low, irritable and/or withdrawn. My teens pointed out that a lot of teens who aren’t actually depressed fit that description. So here’s the second part: the feelings have to be of a reasonably intense level for at least two weeks on a consistent basis.
- The Drives
The second area is what I call “the drives”. This is when someone notices a significant change in their willingness to be motivated, have energy, or to do things they would usually do. Their sleep can go up or down, their appetite and eating can go up or down, and interest in doing things, or socialising often goes down (BTW also a person’s interest in sex usually goes way down).Again, the idea of having depression is that these symptoms would be there most of the time, for at least a two-week period.
- Your Thinking Style and Speed of Thinking
The third area is to do with changes in how you think, and your ability to process what you are giving your attention to.Often a depressed person’s thinking becomes negative or pessimistic and they may focus on thoughts of feeling like a failure and criticizing themselves or think they are being punished in some way. People with more severe depression describe an absence of any positive thinking – that their future feels bleak and hopeless. Sometimes they will say that their friends and family are better off without them.Also, people’s ability to concentrate, remember things, make decisions and sequence things can become really tricky. Often people describe that they feel like they are walking in mud, that their thoughts are slow and difficult to trudge through. School work and grades, and being able to do paid work is often affected.
- Sometimes thoughts of suicide
Contrary to common belief, thoughts of suicide do not have to be part of depression. Many people with depression don’t have suicidal thoughts at all.Though it is also true that it is common for people to experience suicidal thoughts especially when they are feeling low, hopeless or distressed. I tend to think of the suicidal thoughts as being a way that our mind or brain, tries to problem solve to stop the (emotional) pain of depression, though clearly it is not a good solution and not one that I would want you to take.
How does learning psychology help depression?
Psychology teaches people how to train their minds. We learn to pick up what our self talk (that chatter in your mind) might be saying and how to gradually develop more helpful ways of thinking. And feeling. Psychology helps you to remember what makes you feel good, within you. Without needing to seek something outside of yourself.
We psychologists have a number of specific psychological strategies available to help people who are depressed, such as learning about changing from a global thinking style to a specific thinking style, training the mind for optimism instead of pessimism or building belief in your abilities to face any difficulties in your life. (Look up search words like cognitive behavioural therapy, hypnosis and mindful meditation as possible psychology therapies)
Usually a first session involves you talking about yourself and your patterns of how you decide particular things within your life. This helps you with the help of your psychologist to then set some goals and plans for subsequent sessions.
Often it takes gradual learning as you go along to create lasting change.
While we aren’t able to control the when and what of the difficult things that we face, we can learn how to work with or around them and manage the way we feel about them. That is often the primary goal my patients and I work toward when things aren’t good for them.
Booking an appointment
A clinical psychologist trains for at least six years with strong focus on helping people with depression and anxiety. If you see your local doctor, you can receive a Medicare Rebate, by asking them to complete a GP Mental Health Care Plan for you.
The Gap fee (price after rebate) at Revive Health and Happiness is only $71 or $81 per session depending on the day and time of your session.