What is depression?
Everybody has bad moods and bad days. You get a lousy score on a math test. Your boyfriend breaks up with you. You have a fight with your best friend. Your grandmother is in the hospital. When things like this happen, it's normal—and even healthy—to feel sad, angry, or just plain down in the dumps for a few days. Our emotions make us human; they remind us that we're alive and that we care about the people we love.
But if your bad moods don't go away, if you feel sad or angry or blue every day for a couple of weeks or longer, something else may be going on. You may have what's known as depression.
You've probably heard someone say, "I'm so depressed." Maybe you've even said it yourself—when the movie you wanted to see is sold out, or you can't find those new jeans in your size, or you're having a bad hair day.
That's not depression. That's disappointment. Real depression is something very different. Depression is not just a bad mood. It is an illness, just like the chicken pox, the flu, or asthma. It's not your fault. It doesn't mean that you are weak or immature or weird. What it does mean is that you need help.
Being a teenager means that your body is going through all sorts of changes. Many of these changes are caused by hormones
that started building in your body when you were 8 or 9. By the time you become a teenager, those hormones are in the process of turning you into a woman. Even though they are doing an important job, they can also make you feel moody. Maybe you're happy one minute and in a bad mood the next minute when something goes wrong. Is that depression? Or it is just the normal stuff that happens when your body is changing? It can be hard to tell sometimes.
If you think you are depressed, you may hope the depression will just go away by itself. Maybe your parents and friends hope so, too. They may say things like "Why are you always in such a bad mood? Cheer up!" or "Snap out of it!" The problem is that many people don't understand depression. That's why it's important to learn more about it. Even if you don't have the illness, you may be able to help someone you care about who does. back to top
Who gets depressed?
If you're depressed, you have a lot of company. More than 17 million Americans have some form of depression. It affects girls and boys, women and men, rich and poor people, and people of all different races and ethnic groups. Even little kids can get depressed.
And here's something interesting: girls and women seem to get depressed more often than boys and men do. This could be related to the hormones girls have in their bodies, or to the differences between how boys and girls react to things.
Luckily, no matter who you are, there are a lot of ways that you can get help with depression. It's important to remember that depression can be treated
. back to top
How can I tell if I'm depressed?
A person who is depressed almost always feels the illness in both her body and her mind. Here are some of the most common warning signs of depression.
- sleeping too much, more than 10 hours a day
- not sleeping much at all
- having trouble getting up in the morning or waking up too early
- eating much too little
- not having much fun
- feeling like there's nothing to look forward to
- crying a lot more than usual
- having headaches and stomachaches that won't go away
- feeling restless
- feeling irritable, angry, and anxious
- feeling hopeless, worthless, useless, and like a failure
- having a hard time concentrating in school and getting bad grades
- skipping school a lot
- forgetting things
- having a hard time making decisions
- feeling lonely, even when you are with other people
- arguing with friends a lot more than usual
- wanting to be alone all the time
- feeling guilty much of the time over things that are not even your fault
- feeling fat or ugly, or like everyone's staring at you
- thinking that no one likes you or cares about you and that there is no one you can talk to
- feeling tired almost all the time and moving really slowly
- feeling numb
- feeling like you might as well be dead
- thinking about death a lot
You may have one of these feelings now and then. Join the club! That's normal. Or maybe you've had one of these symptoms for a couple of days. Maybe you've been bored or irritable, or you're still upset about something bad that happened in school last week. As long as you're still doing the things you normally do every day, you probably have nothing to worry about.
But if you have a number of these symptoms, and they last for at least two weeks, it's time to talk with someone who can help you and get treatment for your depression
. If you have serious thoughts of hurting yourself
, you should get help immediately.
Without treatment, your depression could last for months, or years, or forever. You may miss opportunities to do things you could do if you felt better. With treatment, your chances of feeling better are very, very good. back to top
Is there anything that may feel like depression, but isn't?
Sure. If you've just gotten your period—or even if you've had it for a while—you may notice symptoms that are just like some of the ones listed above. Maybe you feel cranky or edgy. Maybe you are having trouble sleeping. Maybe you even feel like you're going a little crazy. These symptoms can feel overwhelming for a few days, then they go away, only to come back again a few weeks later. If this sounds familiar, you may have what's known as premenstrual syndrome, or PMS. Many girls feel this way a few days before they get their period. Once their period comes, they feel normal again—until the next month, of course. PMS is not depression. You can take medication to get some relief.
A few diseases have symptoms that are similar to depression, such as thyroid problems or mononucleosis. That is why it is so important to get professional help. It's your health professional's job to sort that out with you. Don't try to do it by yourself. back to top