Teenage depression has become a serious issue among teenagers because of the stresses they face in life and in school. Rev Sam Kuna bares his heart and shares the lessons he’s learned from his own experience.
I was a depressed teenager. Many who know me will be hearing about this part of my life for the first time! Over the years in ministry, I have shared about my brush with depression at age 14 when I first discovered my father was a mental patient. It was a shock to me because I was the only one in the family who did not know—my family had kept this secret from me. I also discovered my dad was diagnosed with schizophrenia a few months before I was born. This worsened my depression because I was sure that since there was family history there was a high chance I’d develop the condition too! Of course, later in life I discovered this wasn’t true. Needless to say, I was relieved!
Anyone can get depression. Since I became a trained child counselor, I have learned that young children can be depressed too! However, their symptoms aren’t usually the same as those experienced by adults. This is why the condition often goes undetected in kids, and symptoms are often misinterpreted as rebellion.
Lesson #1: It’s okay to be sad!
It was the Greek doctor Hippocrates who called depression ‘melancholia’. The discovery of my dad’s condition was a major shock to me. What’s more, societal beliefs classified him as a crazy person, adding shame to sadness. These were strong emotions for a 14-year-old to cope with and I promptly withdrew further into my own world, which probably helped to hide my depression. Chalking up my behavior to regular teenage angst, my family began to call me “Mr Moody”. As you can see, sadness in children can sometimes be covered up by other developmental behaviors.
Lesson #2: Loss of Motivation to Excel.
A few years ago, I was preaching in a church and saw my Secondary 3 teacher in the congregation. He came up to me after the service and asked me what happened that year because he had observed that my behavior changed—I had appeared troubled and my grades dropped as I had lost all motivation due to my depression. It seemed like there was no longer any purpose in studying hard or getting good grades. I became a loner and stopped talking even to my family members. Once again, this could easily be masked as typical adolescent behavior and overlooked by family and teachers. Remember, falling grades are a clear indication that something is troubling your teens. Stop to attend to your teen.
Lesson #3: Laughter replaced with anger
I felt unimportant, thinking that this was the reason my family kept the secret from me. These negative thoughts made me feel like I wasn’t valued. When my grades started to drop I thought, “What’s the big deal? It doesn’t matter anyway!” My mindset was being distorted by the way I was misinterpreting the family situation and I was completely unaware this was happening! To add to my misery, my family had to sell our house because my father couldn’t work. While waiting for a flat of our own, we lived in a rented house in a kampong (village) in Sembawang and in a rented flat in Toa Payoh. I had been a sensitive child, but now I became even more sensitive to criticism, especially when people compared me to my older siblings. I thought about ending my life, but I am now thankful the Lord kept me from going down that path!
Some other things to take note of in adolescents who may be depressed:
Often, adolescents with depression exhibit a noticeable change in their thinking and behavior. They may lose motivation and become withdrawn—locking themselves in their room for hours. Of course, this behavior is also typical among teenagers obsessed with computer games!
Adolescents with depression may also sleep excessively during the day or stay awake after hours, change their eating habits, and act out, experimenting with smoking, drinking, drugs, promiscuous sex, or stealing.
Other signs of depression in adolescents:
- Complaints of pains, including headaches, stomachaches, low back pain, orfatigue
- Difficulty processing thoughts and makingdecisions
- Excessive or inappropriateguilt
- Irresponsible behavior (g. forgetting appointments, being late for classes or playingtruant)
- Loss of concentration ormemory
- Rebellious behavior
I had chronic depression, but the condition can also be an acute one. This means it persists for just four to eight weeks. Nonetheless, it’s important for a responsible adult to attend to the adolescent regardless of how long it lasts; the condition can have an impact on young impressionable minds.
Some of these incidents could result in short-term depression:
- Failing a subject or a major exam and not getting promoted to the nextgrade
- Being overlooked for a position or role in school or in asport
- Being bullied inschool
- Beingreprimanded or punished in front of peers
- Deathof a pet or family member
Moving house regularly and losing friends repeatedly.
What can parents do to alleviate teen depression?
The teenage years can be the most challenging phase of your parenthood. Here’s what you can do to help:
- Whendisciplining your teens, help them express their feelings about what went Invite them to take responsibility. Shame and punishment can make an adolescent feel worthless and inadequate.
- We all make Being overprotective or making decisions for your teenager can be perceived asa lack of faith in their abilities
- Let your teenager choose his or her own Avoid comparingor trying to relive your youth through your teen
- Give your teen some bandwidth. Don’t expect them todo things exactly as you say
- Remember,a depressed teen is a hurting teen! Control your emotions and withhold your Attend to them and if you need to, seek help together with your teen.
I personally don’t recommend medication to manage depression in teens. But I do encourage family counseling or psychotherapy to help the adolescent and his or her parents work together to overcome depression.
- Wright, H Norman & Oliver, Gary J PhD (1993), Kids Have Feelings Too! Victor Books,
- Nithyakala Karuppaswamy with Judith A Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE Does the Child Need Counseling? Retrieved from https://extension.purdue.edu/providerparent/family-child%20relationships/childcounseling.htm
- 10 Things that may cause teenage depression, By Meghan on May 22, 2013 in Mental Health & Coping and Youth Teams.Retrieved from http://mindyourmind.ca/expression/blog/10-things- may-cause-teenage-depression
- Teen Depression, Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on March 06, 2014 © 2014 WebMD, All rights reserved. Retrievedfrom www.webmd.com/depression/guide/teen-depression
About Rev Sam Kuna:
Rev Sam Kuna is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God of Singapore. He has a BA in Psychology and an MA in Marriage, Family & Child Counseling. He is a trained Sandplay Therapist, Addiction Counselor and Clinical Supervisor. He currently serves as Dean at the School of Counselling in TCA College. He sits on the Board of several professional counseling associations and is an active volunteer.