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Everyone has bad days. Everyone gets tired, and everyone gets angry, and everyone gets the blues. That's normal.
However, people do not normally feel angry, sad, tired, or indifferent almost all the time. If you feel that way, and if the feelings do not go away within a couple of weeks, you may have a serious illness called "clinical depression." About one out of 20 teenagers is depressed.
Because they feel so awful, depressed teenagers do things that really aren't like themselves. Their grades may drop, or they lose friends, or they louse up their jobs. Sometimes they start to sleep all the time, or they hardly sleep at all. Sometimes they don't care what happens to them, so they do very risky things. A few depressed teenagers even kill themselves.
The good news is, experts today know how to treat depression. When depression ends, the teenagers may still have troubles, but they can get on with their lives. They feel like themselves again. They can do what they have to do.
Depression is a physical illness — like diabetes or asthma. In diabetes, the body doesn't have the right chemicals to use sugar. In depressed people, it is thought that a different group of chemicals goes out of balance, in the brain.
Since these chemicals are in the brain, they affect thoughts and feelings, as well as sleep and appetite. That's why the symptoms of depression are emotional as well as physical.
The illness of depression can be very confusing, because every person reacts to changing brain chemicals in his or her own way. One depressed teenager may be irritable and argue all the time, while another never gets out of bed. But both will know, deep down, that something is wrong. They probably can remember a time when they didn't feel so bad.
Another confusion is that often the depression seems to start for a reason—like your grandmother dies, or you break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend. And it's true, when stress and unhappiness make you feel sad, that's normal. But in most people, after a while the sadness eases off. When stress sets off a clinical depression, the emotions may be more intense than expected, and they don't go away within a normal period of time.
Don't forget—depression is physical. If you broke your leg jumping over fences, you'd go to the doctor and get a cast, wouldn't you? Once the leg is broken, it's not enough to stop jumping. Once a person's brain chemicals have shifted into depression, it does not matter why the depression started. That person needs help.
Because it's in the brain, depression can make people think their unhappy feelings are their own fault. Depression is like a fun-house mirror—it gives you a twisted picture of yourself. So sometimes depressed teenagers think they deserve to feel awful. Wrong. Depression makes most depressed kids exaggerate how "bad" they've been.
Sometimes depression makes teenagers think they are fat and ugly. They stop eating, or they overeat and make themselves sick—both problems that often go with adolescent depression.
Sadly, some depressed teenagers find that drugs or alcohol make them feel better, at least for an evening. So they do a lot of drugs and alcohol. But in the morning the depression is not gone. In fact, drugs and alcohol usually make it worse. Drugs and alcohol can become problems all by themselves.
The illness of depression can make it hard to get help. Some depressed people just lie on their beds all day, listening to music at the wall. IF you have an illness that makes you feel like that, it's really hard to get up and tell someone that you need help. It's easier to just lie there.
In a few people, certain brain chemicals go way way up, as well as way way down. These people may sometimes feel like, "I'm the worst person in the world." At other times, they get "high" on their own brain chemicals. Then they drive much too fast, or spend money they don't really have. They sometimes can't stop talking, because their ideas come so fast and seem so wonderful. And anything can seem possible, anything at all! One teenager tried to fly like Superman from the roof of the school.
If you think you might be a person who gets too high on your own brain chemicals, get help right away. This kind of depression is called "manic depression." It is especially dangerous, because it makes teenagers feel safe while doing very risky things.
The longer a teenager's life stays confused and out of control, the harder it can be to get back on track. Without help, depression can go on for years, right into adulthood. Depression can keep you from doing your best in school and work, and from keeping the friends you have made, and from doing the things you really want to do.
Doctors and mental health professionals can tell whether you are having clinical depression or a normal reaction to problems. They know many different treatments, including medicines that can balance brain chemicals.
Talking with a doctor or counselor is helpful for many depressed teenagers, as it is for adults. That makes sense, because talking can relieve stress. Anti-depressant medications can also help.
You should know that these treatments are not like antibiotics—they almost never work right away. It probably took you weeks or months to sink into depression. It can also take weeks (3-8 weeks) for the depression to lift. If you quit treatment too soon, you will never know if it would have worked. With help, almost all depressed teenagers will get better.
In fact, people are often helped right away just by finding out that they have a clinical depression. Many depressed teenagers are afraid they are going crazy, or that they might be as worthless as they feel. It's a lot less scary to know you have a disease which affects your thoughts and feelings—and to know that it can be treated.
If you think you may be depressed, take action. Get help soon. You'll be glad you did.