Understanding what depression looks like in teens, how families can identify at-risk youth, and ways to help manage real-life suffering are some of the things that can come from the controversy around Hannah Baker’s suicide depicted in the now infamous Netflix series, Thirteen Reason Why.
While the show’s premise is a bit shocking, it’s not the first time a teenage show has opened up the discussion about teenage suicide; One Tree Hill, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Desperate Exit have all aired episodes on the topic. However, it seems that this controversy is related to the glorification of suicide rather than offering solutions to prevent suicide. Warning emails from schools, complaints from mental health professionals, and concerns from shocked parents are just a few reactions to the show’s storyline.
Understand the Different Types of Depression
It’s no secret that teenagers can be considered moody, in large part, due to surging hormones. However, there are subtle differences between teenage angst and clinical depression. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), there are three main types of depression; major depression, persistent depressive disorder, and bipolar disorder.
Major depression lasts for a minimum of two weeks and may affect youth more than once in their lifetime. A major depressive episode can be brought on by the death of a loved one, a romantic breakup, or other traumatic life events. Common symptoms include: persistent sadness, anxiety, irritability, loss of interest, withdrawal from friends and family, decreased energy, insomnia, weight loss or weight gain, unexplainable persistent physical ailments (ex: headaches), feelings of hopelessness and emptiness, and thoughts of suicide. A major depressive episode is often debilitating and will affect a person’s ability to eat, sleep, work or study.
Persistent depressive disorder (PDD) is a chronic but less severe form of depression that affects youth for at least two years. While the severity and longevity differ from major depression the symptoms are very similar, the most common being decreased energy and weight loss or weight gain.
Lastly, bipolar disorder is a cyclical mood disorder that involves severe highs (mania) and extreme lows (depression). During severe highs, individuals exhibit inappropriate social behavior, excessive irritability, elation, racing thoughts, increased sex drive, and abnormally high energy levels. The depressive stage involves similar symptoms to that of major depression and PDD.
When considering the symptoms involved with each type of depression, it’s easy to see how parents and teachers alike can mistake depression for hormonal teenage behavior. Only trained professionals have the experience to determine if a child is suffering from clinical depression, so adults who notice these types of behaviors lasting for increased periods or at heightened intensity should seek expert medical attention.
Parents Can Be the First Source of Help
Aside from speaking to a doctor, the first thing parents should do if they think their child or one of their friends may be depressed is to talk to them about it. There isn’t much that beats an empathetic ear and quality time focused on the individual.
Asking kids qualitative questions about their school and friends can help shine some light on what they are going through when they aren’t at home. While parents aren’t able to cure a child’s depression on their own, they can certainly help. Some suggestions would be to promote a healthy lifestyle with balanced meals, frequent exercise, adequate sleep, and monitored screen time.
Digital Monitoring Offers Even More Insight
As the popularity and frequency with which teens use social media has increased so have the number of teens who post suicidal warning signs on social media. Fortunately, social media websites and developers are utilizing algorithms and artificial intelligence to identify worrisome posts and alert authorities and/or parents.
Bark is a monitoring software that uses advanced algorithms to identify cyberbullying, drug-related content, and depression. If detected, Bark sends an automatic notification to parents about the situation along with situational recommendations. It gives parents and kids the chance to work together to connect accounts for monitoring, allowing kids to keep their independence and privacy while offering parents a sense of calm.
Facebook has also stepped up to the plate to identify dangerous posts using artificial intelligence. If Facebook detects suicidal or depressive language, it immediately connects users with mental health service providers via Facebook Messenger. Facebook has also enabled a feature that allows concerned friends to report posts, which Facebook’s community operations team reviews and provides resources if necessary.
Although it can be terrifying to find out that your child or one of their friends is suffering from depression, it is a treatable condition. Psychological treatment and antidepressants can improve the symptoms of depression along with some lifestyle changes. The key is open communication — the more you know about your teen, the better.
Kali Muir is an ambitious freelance writer with a BA in Communications. She was born in Canada but has since lived in Norway, Denmark, and England. Her work experience is as diverse as her past addresses, including roles in technical communication, corporate communication, marketing, and article writing. She has experience working in varied business sectors: Oil & Gas, Engineering & Technology, Clothing & Equipment Retail, and Creative Writing. Follow Kali’s professional and personal journey at www.kalimuir.com, or connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.