The Truth Behind Depression in Teenagers

Lucas Hammerman ’10 & Emily Goldberg ’12
News Editor & Web Sports Editor

I have been drinking a lot, and I have been dating a lot, and I have been doing things that I am really ashamed of. I started smoking, and I did a lot of things while I was drunk, or smoking weed, that I think I got date-raped. I don’t even know. I recently started being bulimic, but I haven’t told anyone, except my therapist. And he’s really trying to help me work through it,” wrote a teenager in an email, who suffers from depression.

This student was contacted by Inklings through a counselor. The counselor then interviewed the student. Inklings did not directly speak to this anonymous student.

Although this student wished to remain anonymous due the sensitivity of the issue, what this teenager is describing are all contribute to depression.

Depression is a serious issue, and it may affect more Staples students than one might think. “It is not uncommon for people to come into my office who have been, or should be, prescribed medication for depression,” said the Student Outreach Counselor, Chris Lemone.

Many teens are ashamed of the things they are feeling, and therefore depression can go unnoticed and without diagnosis for a long a period of time.

 “Often those struggling with depression believe what they’re feeling is a burden and that no one wants to hear it. People are afraid to come forward,” said Director of Westport Family Counseling, Nicholas Strause.

Anyone is susceptible to depression and, “everyone is fair game,” said Lemone.  It is quite possible that one who appears to be a perfectly happy person on the outside could be in a struggle with depression.

“I really did think I did have the perfect life. I’m popular at school, and everyone sits with me at lunch and stuff. I get good grades (well I was). I have to take a lot of high pressure courses, some AP courses that I don’t want to take, but my parents want me to take. But I don’t like myself very much,” the teenager said.

“Feeling alone and lonely is probably one of the worst feelings in the world. Don’t wait as long as I did. Get help. It really is ok,” wrote the teenager.

What is Depression?

Depression can be defined as the failure to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is responsible to communicate happy feelings, according to Lemone.

 There are two general types of depression based on their cause:,situational and chronic.

Chronic depression is something people are born with, where their chemical makeup is naturally unbalanced. Situational depression is due to a specific event or series of events that causes one to become depressed.

Dr. Susan Finkelstein who specializes in adolescent psychiatry and works in Westport, treats more than 200 adolescents with depression in the Westport area.

“Depression can be worsened by life situations in adolescents, like school pressure, difficulties at home, or trouble with relationships, but it is essentially a chemical imbalance that gets triggered in the body,” wrote Finkelstein. 

Causes and Symptoms

Depression is caused by anything from school related stress, family life, a break up with a girlfriend or boyfriend to economic situation or abuse.

Due to all of the potential causes and the ever-changing body chemistry of an average teenager, “Depression is difficult to diagnose in adolescents,” Strause said. 

Depression can be diagnosed by symptoms such as lack of energy, a drastic change in sleep patters (too much, or too little), change in eating habits, inability to focus, or stomach problems.

Often, and especially in teens, an individual who is really suffering from depression may be mistakenly treated for ADD or ADHD, due to similar symptoms. Even if depression is correctly diagnosed, the patient might go through a series of medications before find the right one.

Impact on Life

Depression has a significant impact on a teen’s daily life. Suffering with depression can take so much energy out of a person that completing homework after a long day at school can seem impossible. In addition, the person might not want to participate in social activities that they usually do.

School Nurse Libby Russ spoke about how it can become hard to focus on school when a person is depressed, and thinking about so many other things. After not being able to focus, grades can slip or the depressed person can even start to lose friends.

“It can become a vicious cycle,” said Russ.

The anonymous teen said, “It sucks. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed…There have been times that I have had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom at school, and I went in there to cry. Nobody knows.”

Because depression can alter daily life in such a significant way, Staples will make special accommodations in order to help those suffering continue to be able to succeed.

Accommodations will be made when there is a, “substantial limitation on the student’s ability to learn,” said Assistant Principal James Farnen. These accommodations may include things such as extra time to make up assignments.

When affected students receive types of special accommodations, “They are thankful and appreciative for the team of caring adults supporting them in and out of the classroom,” Farnen said. 

Awareness and Treatment

One of the problems with depression at Staples is the general lack of awareness that it is an issue. However, depression is prevalent at Staples and the student body should be informed.

“It is definitely much more prevalent in our school than the students expect.  However, when discussed, I think that as a whole we all can agree that it is something we want to solve,” wrote Jackie Kerames ’12, a member of the Teen Awareness Group at Staples in an email.

 There are consequences for a community being uninformed.  “Because of the lack of understanding about depression people may not want to admit they are struggling with it, they may feel embarrassed or ashamed and also people can be unaware that they are suffering from depression,” said Erin Morey, a social worker at Staples. 

“I didn’t understand I was suffering with depression,” wrote the teenager who wished to remain anonymous. As even doctors have difficulties diagnosing depression, it is not uncommon for teenagers to remain confused or misinformed. Even with the small amount of information that a teenager has about depression, it is easy to form misconceptions.  

On T.V, commercials advertising anti-depressants are common. They are so common that one could not be blamed for thinking that anti-depressants are a quick fix to depression.

“Anti-depressants are not a ‘quick-fix’,” wrote Finkelstein, “but are a very helpful part of treatment for anyone with depression.  They usually take a few weeks, sometimes longer, to work.”

Often times the best treatment is therapy. “I am taking some meds to help. And they help a little bit. But the therapy is helping the most,” wrote the teen. “Get help. It really is ok. It really, really is ok. It really, really works.”

However, if parents suspect a child of being depressed they should bring the teenager directly to a physician. 

“Before sending their teen to counseling, a parent should go to a clinician themselves to describe what they see in their teen, to describe their parenting and home environment,”  said Strause.

“There should be careful thought put into counseling, before a parent intrudes into their teen’s world.”