Facebook Twitter



When Danny walks into the interview room, he flashes a smile that chases shadows from the corners. He's obviously bright, happy and healthy.

But when he shows you his report card (all A's and B's), he reminds you that just a year ago his grade point hovered perilously close to a D average.At the tender age of 16, he said, "I already have a past. I've been in a few small legal hassles, I've messed around with tobacco and alcohol, and I think I've spent more time in the principal's office in the past two years than he has."

Danny was classified as an at-risk student by those who cared and wanted to help him. But in crowded classrooms, several teachers just considered him trouble, he said. He was impatient and aggressive. Given instructions, he reacted by muttering a string of invectives under his breath.

"I don't think any of my teachers nominated me for student of the year."

He described the events that changed his life as "a freak accident." He injured his foot and when his mother took him to the doctor, they started talking.

The doctor, a family practitioner, decided that Danny might actually be suffering from biological depression, rather than just being a troublemaker. Eventually, Danny was placed on a course of anti-depressants, received some group counseling with other troubled teens and the rest, he said, "tells its own story. You can look at me and know I'm OK."

People tell you that childhood and teen years are the best years of your life. But the fact is, for 3 percent to 5 percent of the teenage population, it's a nightmare, according to statistics compiled by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Statistics on teen depression are not always reliable, according to Tia Davis, Mental Health Association of Utah. "We are starting to learn that some problems that received other diagnoses, like hyperactivity, were in fact manifestations of depression in some teenagers," she said.

Parents also sometimes write off behavior that may indicate depression as a "growing phase."

"Face it," said one parent, whose teen is in treatment for depression. "A lot of the symptoms of depression are also the symptoms of growing up. And it's hard to tell where it's biological and ongoing, and where it's just passing through."

"Adolescence is a difficult time," said Dr. Paul Wender, director of psychiatric research and professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah. "Depressed periods are common. But it is not normal to have extended periods of depression."

The major problem separating teenagers who are depressed from the treatment that will give them back their lives is the number of popular myths about teens and depression. Among the myths explored by the National Institute of Mental Health:

_ Teens don't suffer from real depression. In reality, "real" depression is no respecter of age, creed, race, culture or economic group.

_ Teens who claim to be depressed are just weak and need to pull themselves together. The reality: Professional treatment is essential for anyone who is depressed. And telling someone who is biologically ill to snap out of it is like telling someone to quit having thyroid problems.

_ Talking about depression makes it worse. In fact, talking through feelings may help a friend recognize the need for getting help.

_ People who talk about suicide don't really commit suicide. Fact: Many of those who succeed at suicide have given plenty of warning to friends and family. According to Peter Muehrer, NIMH psychologist, not everyone who talks about suicide will attempt or commit it. It's not a fool-proof indicator. "But it is a foolproof indicator that someone needs help and is in trouble."

_ A friend who tells an adult that a teenager may be depressed is betraying a personal trust. In reality, depression, which saps energy and self-esteem, also saps a person's ability or wish to get help. And a friend who suspects someone's in trouble should definitely talk to a trusted adult.

Many of the symptoms of teenage and adult depression are the same. But researchers from Ohio State and Stanford universities developed the "Face Valid Depressive Scale for Adolescents" to identify factors that are relevant to adolescent depression.

They include sadness, fluctuation between apathy and talkativeness, anger and rage, being over-sensitive or overreacting to criticism, feeling insufficient, having poor self-esteem, helplessness and decreased peer support, ambivalence between dependence and independence, emptiness in life, restlessness and agitation, pessimism about the future, death wishes and suicide ideas, rebellious refusal to work in class or cooperate at home, sleep disturbance, increased or decreased appetite, weight gain or loss and medical symptoms like headaches.

There are six core factors in adolescent depression: lack of confidence, social abandonment, loss of interests, sadness, somatic symptoms and acting out.

When a child exhibits these symptoms, he must be examined for depression. Depression is not a flu or cold that runs its course and goes away.