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Depression or Teenage Hormones?

How can I tell if I have depression or if I’m just a moody teenager? I’ve taken many online surveys before, including the SanityScore one, and they all say I have “Severe Depression” but I’m still skeptical. I have extreme mood swings, I feel hopeless and worthless sometimes, I feel like I can’t control anything in my life, but then sometimes I think I’m just overreacting. I think that there are people who have it worse than I do, and that I should just stop thinking about it. I sort of want to bring the idea up to my mom, but I don’t want her to judge me. I wrote a letter to her but I haven’t given it to her yet. Do you have any advice?

You have asked a very good question. It’s probably a question that many teenagers and parents have pondered. To give you the best answer I would need to interview you. My questions would be geared toward determining the seriousness of your symptoms. I would want to know information such as how frequently the symptoms disrupt your life, to what degree and whether you have contemplated or attempted suicide. Your answers to those questions could help me to determine whether you have depression.

From what you have written, it does seem that your symptoms are significant and concerning. Having extreme mood swings is not normal. Many individuals will occasionally experience periods of irritability but it’s unusual to have “extreme” mood swings.

The National Institute of Mental Health website states that “if you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression:”

“Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
Decreased energy or fatigue
Moving or talking more slowly
Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
Appetite and/or weight changes
Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment”

NIMH also goes on to say, “Not everyone who is depressed experiences every symptom. Some people experience only a few symptoms while others may experience many. Several persistent symptoms in addition to low mood are required for a diagnosis of major depression, but people with only a few – but distressing – symptoms may benefit from treatment of their “subsyndromal” depression. The severity and frequency of symptoms and how long they last will vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness. Symptoms may also vary depending on the stage of the illness.”

You mentioned feeling hopeless and worthless. You didn’t specify how often you feel that way. Teenagers especially may experience those feelings occasionally and that may be relatively normal. To experience them on a regular basis (a few times a week) would be abnormal. You also feel that you can’t control anything. I am not certain what you meant by that expression but usually that feeling is associated with anxiety. Depression and anxiety commonly co-occur. I wonder how often you feel out of control and if you have a reaction to that feeling.

I tried to provide a nuanced answer but the simple answer is this: If you feel depressed then you should seek help. It’s not advisable to let your depression symptoms worsen before you decide that treatment is warranted. It’s better to be proactive and treat the symptoms as soon as you notice them occurring. You already have a letter written to your mother. The next step would be to give it to her. It is important that she knows how you are feeling. It would be helpful for you to discuss this with her and put a plan in place to make an appointment with a professional. Please take care. Thanks for writing.

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