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Adolescence is a time for major physical, emotional and social changes, and the result can feel like a bit of personality roller coaster. But for many young people, their feelings of anxiousness or sadness amount to more than a day or two of high school blues. Depression is a common yet serious mental health disorder and the leading cause of disability among Americans ages 15 to 44. Yet depression in teens can be difficult to recognize, particularly when you factor in cultural views of mental illness.
In the not-so-distant past, depression was thought of as an adult-only disease. Young people with depression “were dismissed as moody or difficult.” Now, it’s estimated that one in five teens — with girls more likely to be diagnosed than boys — will experience depressive symptoms at some point. And according to the National Institute of Mental Health, older children and teens may have slightly different symptoms of depression compared to adults. They may “sulk, get into trouble at school, be negative or grouchy, or feel misunderstood.”
Some research also suggests that depression can run in families. But that doesn’t mean every family is willing to talk about depression.
“On the Filipino side of my family, it’s taboo to talk about feeling sad,” says Youth Radio’s Amber Cavarlez. After her mom died, she says her family dealt with it by going to church, and praying. But they didn’t talk about their feelings.
“When I was unable to shake off my sadness, my family would say, ‘You’re not being grateful for what you have,’” she said. “Sure, I was physically fine, but I felt mentally and emotionally unstable.”
Different cultural and ethnic groups in the U.S. have varying perceptions and expressions of mental illnesses. Conditions like depression may be unrecognized or considered taboo. In some native languages, for example, there are no words for anxiety or depression, making these conditions difficult to diagnose and treat. Among some Chinese Americans, depression is commonly experienced as physical pain (stomach aches, headaches, etc.) rather than emotional pain.
How is mental illness viewed in your community? How can schools better support teens who are depressed? How can mental health specialists factor culture into depression treatment? To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDEdspace and end it with #DoNowDepression
AUDIO: Explaining Depression To My Family (KQED/Youth Radio)
Like many young people, Youth Radio’s Amber Cavarlez struggles with depression. Yet she says the Filipino side of her family considers talking about feelings to be taboo. While her relatives feel their silence keeps them focused on moving past hardship, Amber says the denial can make her depression deeper.
WEB: Overview of Teen Depression (Mayo Clinic)
This overview of the symptoms, causes and treatment options for teen depression is a good starting place for young people who may be affected by depression. This site contains resources, like the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255). If a you or a teen you know is having suicidal thoughts, seek help immediately.
WEB: Masculinity and Depression: Why Men Won’t Come Forward (Voicewaves Youth Media)
Alex Villaneda was 15 years old when his father died, sending him into a years-long battle with depression. “I felt I must be the only one that feels this way,” he said of those feelings “and [that I was] weak as a man because everyone else is alright.” Depression is less common in men than women, and yet men are much more likely to commit suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This story explores the intersection of gender and mental health.
WEB: With Youth Depression, Young People Are Often The “First Responders” (New American Media)
Despite having little or no training, a growing number of young people in California are acting as “first responders” for peers coping with mental health issues. Mental health advocates say schools should take a greater role in educating young people about mental health.
AUDIO: This Isn’t Just Teen Angst. It’s Depression (Stitcher/Youth Radio)
This Youth Radio podcast explores whether there’s a link between gun violence and mental illness. And a former Youth Radio reporter reflects on the depression she experienced as a teenager.