If your teenager's having a hard time with friendships and isn't getting with the program at school, it might not just be attitude: It could be the lingering effect of depression. That's the heads-up I got from Lisa Jaycox, a psychologist with the Rand Corp., a nonprofit think tank, who studies how depression affects teens and what families decide to do about it.
"Depression isn't always just a passing phase," Jaycox says. Instead, she says, it can sabotage academic performance, social life, and family relationships, "not just when they're down but even next semester and next school year."
The rule of thumb is if a teenager has been in a low mood consistently for two weeks, parents should consider depression. But Jaycox's new work, published online this week in Pediatrics, found that teens who had been depressed still struggled with school, friendships, and family relationships six months later. That, says Jaycox, is a good reason for parents to get moving and talk to their child's pediatrician and teachers sooner rather than later.
Nobody's eager to be diagnosed with depression or have a child stuck with that label, which is still a stigma. In fact, just 39 percent of teenagers with major depression get help for it. That's why the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended in April that all teenagers be routinely screened for depression by their primary-care doctors.
What to do if your child is diagnosed with depression? First, don't panic. It's common, with about 2 million teenagers and preteens experiencing depression each year. And there are good, scientifically tested options for treatment. Cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy are two nondrug options that are proven to help. CBT can even help prevent depression in teenagers who are at risk, according to research published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
I'm hoping my child will dodge the depression bullet when she's a teenager, but if she does start to struggle, I'm going to have to mom up and make sure she gets the help she needs.
Have you had experience with cognitive behavioral therapy or other therapy for treating teenage depression? What worked? What didn't?