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Raising Healthy Children

Debunking Myths of Teen Depression

Sad teen standing in front of mom.

Don’t be fooled by common myths about depression among teens. Psychiatrist Leslie Miller, M.D., explains what parents need to know.

Myth #1: “He has everything. He is smart and has friends and supportive parents. What does he have to be depressed about?”

Fact: Depression is a biologically based illness. It can be triggered by stressors, though, and social supports can be protective.

Myth #2: “It’s just a phase.” “Everyone can be sad. It’s normal to be sad.”

Fact: Yes, sadness is normal, and the goal is not to “pathologize” normal behavior and feelings. However, untreated depression can last seven to nine months. During that time period, adolescents can accumulate unhealthy behavior patterns and miss out on important developmental milestones.

Myth #3: “All teens are irritable.” “He just has an attitude.” “He’s not sad — he can’t be depressed.”

Facts: When assessing a teen with irritable mood, it is important to ask about other associated changes, such as change in sleep, appetite, motivation or concentration, to help determine if the teen is experiencing depression.

It is important to use associated signs and symptoms to determine if the irritability is significant and part of depression, or if it’s more developmentally appropriate as part of adolescence.

Adolescence is a time period for asserting autonomy and independence, which can lead to an increase in arguments with parents.

Myth #4: “She’s just lazy.” “If she just tried harder…”

Fact: Depression can affect sleep, energy level and motivation, to name a few associated symptoms. Teens cannot simply “mind over matter” or will themselves to overcome depression. They can, however, engage in positive activities to help alleviate symptoms.  

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