Let’s begin with a basic definition:
Clinical depression (also known as major depression or major depressive disorder) is usually accompanied by several of these identifiable signs that persist for at least two weeks:
- Persistent low mood or sadness
- Fatigue or low energy levels
- Feelings of dejection, despondency, apathy, and hopelessness
- Lack of energy
- Trouble sleeping, or sleeping a lot more than usual
- Significant weight loss or weight gain
- Loss of interest in work, recreational activities, interests
- Neglect of personal hygiene
- Cognitive abilities are slowed or difficult
- Inability to function in normal tasks
- Suicidal thoughts
Subcategories of clinical depression can be grouped under two major headings: the situational or environmental and the organic or biological.
Situational or environmental depression, which may also be diagnosed as adjustment disorder with depressive features, is a type of major depression that can be brought on by experiencing the breakup of your family; the loss of a parent, family member, or close friend; witnessing a shooting at school; the breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend; or surviving a natural disaster. Any major circumstance can bring on depression. The symptoms of this type of depression may be fewer, less intense, and the recovery time may also be shorter (usually six months or less). This type of depression often goes unnoticed because your child is still able to function—at least at some level—and can get lost in all the changes happening because of the circumstance.
Organically or biologically generated depression is major depression associated with brain and body chemistry and may be genetically transmitted, although that’s not always the case. If your teenager is suffering from clinical depression, she will usually experience many of the symptoms listed in the definition and will likely experience them with a high degree of intensity. As a result, the condition generally has a significant impact on her ability to function in everyday life; hence the term dys (meaning not function). Recovery may take a year or longer.
This type of depression can be further subdivided as unipolar depression or biopolar disorder. Unipolar depression is characterized by persistent and recurring episodes of extreme low mood; think down mood only. If a normal person’s emotional state fits this pattern . . .
. . . then the emotional-state pattern of a person suffering from unipolar clinical depression would look something like this:
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong, chronic condition characterized by extreme mood swings or episodes of depression and mania that often lead to impulsive and risky behaviors; think down and up both. Bipolar disorder might be diagrammed as follows:
Bipolar is further subdivided and can look the exact opposite of the diagram above as well—mostly above the normal with an occasional below-the-normal spike. The general idea is there’s both down and up in some configuration and duration.
That’s a very brief overview of what depression is. It’s also important to know what it’s not. Being seriously depressed is not the same thing as your teenager being moody.