If you search for “youth”, “young people” or “teens” on Google Images, you get a ton of smiles, hands raised to the sky and fun. That’s what usually comes to mind when we think about young people: happiness.
A dangerous myth
That picture is at the root of a very dangerous myth: the idea that teenagers and young adults are “too young” to experience depression. Such misconception leads to a neglecting attitude towards young people struggling with their mental health. Parents, teachers and other adults shut their eyes. “He’s a teen, it’s just a phase. It will pass.”
The problem is that mental illnesses do not work like that. With time, a cold or the flu might just “pass” even if you don’t take a single aspirin. But depression, if not given attention, tends only to get worse.
It is not rare that people only recognize and begin to take care of a depressed teen when the illness is already at an advanced stage.
Sometimes, it is too late.
It is a statistic that’s often repeated around by media, but I don’t think people pay enough attention to it. Suicide is the second leading cause of teenage death in the United States.
In this post, I want to discuss the two misconceptions that I believe are at the centre of the misbelief around teenage and young adult depression.
1. “She’s young! What reason does she have to be sad?”
It’s funny. Parents complain all the time about how “moody” their teens are, yet do not believe it when they say they are sad. After all, Google shows us that youth equals joy, right?
The truth is that teenagers experience all kinds of emotions. Happiness, excitement, passion … But also sadness, anger, fear … Yes, they are normal people. You’ve got it.
The difference here is that teens experience those feelings with added intensity. During puberty, the part of the brain that processes emotion — the amygdala — goes through some major changes. Because of that, the teenage brain is ultrasensitive to emotion.
As a result, teens have to deal with intense waves of emotion that often take them to extremes. One minute, they may burst into laughter and experience an intense feeling of enjoyment. At the next minute, they could suddenly drop to a deep sadness, bursting into tears.
It is confusing, unsettling and just plainly hard. That makes teens more vulnerable to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, which take advantage of their insecurities.
The video below explains in a fun and quick way why teens are more prone to intense emotions and some of the consequences of that:
2. “He’s a teenager! He has nothing to worry about!”
As a teen, I used to hate this misbelief with all my might.
When you’re an adult and have a pile of bills to pay and a mean boss to deal with, it’s easy to underestimate the problems of a teenager. It amazes me how quick some people are to forget the pains of their own teenage years.
Let me say this at once: teenage struggles are real.
Every stage of life has its own joys and sorrows. It might be a cliché to say so but if people repeat clichés, it’s only because they hold a kind of ancient truth.
Struggles at school
To someone who graduated, say, ten years ago, school might sound like a golden time. The constant worry and pressure to get good grades — or at least not to fail — may feel like nothing compared to our daily problems in the adult world.
What one needs to understand, though, is that school represents a huge part of a teen’s world. It’s not a coincidence that most young adult books and movies take place at school. In Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the characters even live at school! Teens spend half their days or longer either in school or in doing schoolwork. In a scenario like that, it’s inevitable that school is going to feel like a big deal.
Besides, it is at school that teens experience the highest level of peer pressure. That is the necessity of being accepted by their fellow teens. The need to fit.
Unaccepted and lonely
It’s true: we all want to feel that we belong somewhere. But for teens, this is not just a wish. It is something that feels vital. At this stage, feeling unaccepted and lonely may be a reason good enough to consider taking one’s own life. After all, why live, if no one likes me?
Now imagine trying to get good grades and please everyone around. Try doing that while having to balance the emotions in your overly sensitive brain, which likes to be a built-in bully inside your head. Teens have a lot to worry about.
Children can be depressed too
Children experience depression, too
This post is about teenagers and young adults, but I could not finish it without mentioning younger children. If people have a hard time believing a teen could be depressed, imagining a child in that situation seems even more difficult. They know so little of life! What could lead a child to experience that level of sadness?
It’s important to note that anyone can experience negative feelings, and children are no different. If submitted to constant stress, they too can develop mental illnesses. It might sound shocking, but data shows that since 1999, there has been one suicide every five days amongst the population aged 13 and under in the U.S.
Watch over everyone
Besides, please bear in mind that “sadness” and “loneliness” are not the only factors that can lead to the state we call “depression”. Organic factors such as a misbalance of certain hormones can also cause the body and the mind to develop such a condition.
It is imperative that we watch over everyone around us, regardless of their age. Mental illnesses can happen at any time in life and everyone deserves to be diagnosed and get access to treatment.
Do you know a teen who might be experiencing depression? Have any question for us? We are more than happy to hear you! Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.