Factors of Depression
Mood disorders are very common mental health diagnoses in teenagers, but they still carry a lot of stigma. The first step in getting past a teen’s negative perception of their depression diagnosis is to provide some education on the topic. I like to think of depression as having three major contributing factors:
A family history or genetic predisposition is what people are talking about when they refer to depression as “running in the family” or “a chemical imbalance.” When a genetic predisposition is present, a person’s brain is not able to effectively move and use hormones that contribute to mood, such as serotonin, dopamine, or norepinephrine.
Environmental factors are a wide range of stressors that contribute to a person’s mood, such as a significant loss, failing in school, divorce, trauma, bullying, and more.
The way a person perceives their world
Finally, the way a person perceives their world and thinks about what happens to them has an impact on their mood. If a person has a more negative mindset, or views “the glass half empty”, they are more susceptible to depression.
How to treat depression
The two most common forms of treatment for depression are medication and therapy. Both of these methods have pros and cons, but the most important thing to remember is that neither medication nor therapy works as a magic wand to address all aspects of the problem at once. Medication, for example, can help significantly with the genetic predisposition or “chemical imbalance”, but can do nothing about stress in a person’s environment. There is no pill on the market yet that can help someone process a bad breakup, or explore feelings of shame around being the “bad kid” in the family. Therapy can be very helpful in processing environmental stressors and helping a person learn to think about things differently, but can’t alter the chemistry in the brain. This is why doctors often believe that a combination of medication AND therapy is the best treatment for depression.
The therapeutic process requires time and a willingness to participate, and medications can’t work unless the right one is found and it is taken as prescribed. The good news is that the majority of depression in teenagers is situational, meaning that once life starts improving, they find symptom relief. But a depression diagnosis sometimes means a long road of ups and downs. The measure of success isn’t only symptom relief, but progress in a healthier direction. Success might simply mean that the lows don’t get as low, don’t last as long, and can be dealt with until the feelings pass.
Author: Emily Johnson, MSW LICSW, School-Based Mental Health Supervisor