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What is Depression?

Depression is a very common and widespread disease in today’s society. It is a serious mental disorder that affects every part of a person’s life. Depression can be reduced by knowing the signs and symptoms, how to react, and ways of treatment.

Many Americans experience depression each year. The number is approximately 17.5 million. Depression is a unipolar disease, meaning it has one “pole” or extreme of an emotion, like sadness. This is unlike bipolar depression, which has two extremes, sadness and euphoria (American Medical Association 1). There are many different causes for depression, and most of the time it is due to a combination of factors. Depression can be genetic because it tends to run in families. It is also thought to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. A person’s environment at home or school, and social factors like friends and relationships can also affect one’s risk of depression. Drug abuse, childhood or later life trauma, sad life events, and extreme stress or anxiety can all lead to depression (Lebrun 10). There are different types of depression, and in many cases, depression is accompanied with other mental disorders. Major depression is the first type, and it has a wide variety of symptoms that differ for everyone. These can include feelings of sadness, helplessness, worthlessness, guilt, anger, shame, loneliness, and despair. A loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities, withdrawal or isolation from people, hating oneself, gain or loss of weight or appetite, difficulty making decisions and concentrating, low self esteem, and thoughts of death (Wolf 13). Another common symptom of depression is called psychomotor agitation, which is when someone’s movements and talking are speeded up, and they may have nervous habits like cracking their knuckles, pulling their hair, and not being able to sit still. There is also psychomotor retardation, which involves movements and talking being slowed down, and looking at the ground a lot instead of at people (AMA 30). Physical symptoms such as unexplained headaches and stomachaches, fatigue and insomnia can also occur (Moragne 34). Dysthmia, a milder but long lasting (two+ years on average) form of depression, is the most common type. Its symptoms usually start during adolescence (Wolf 11). Another form is manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder. This involves mood swings between major depression and mania. Someone experiencing mania has high energy, happiness, creativity, overconfidence, extreme irritability, racing thoughts, euphoria, less need for sleep, is more alert, easily distracted, has increased moving and talking, difficulty making decisions, feelings of being invincible, and denial (Cobain 28). The last type of depression is called SAD, seasonal affective disorder. This makes the affected person depressed during only certain seasons, usually winter (“Seasonal affective disorder” #1).

Depression in teenagers is often hard to diagnose. The symptoms are usually overlooked or regarded as teenage rebellion. Teens may show sadness and withdrawal, or anger and violence with no sadness at all (Wolf 26). Only about 20% of depressed teens ever receive help (Moragne 57). 20% of children/adolescents in America are affected with depression at least once in their lifetimes (Lebrun 46). A lot of people never receive help because they don’t know they have a mental disorder. These people use defense mechanisms to escape the problem and convince themselves that there is nothing wrong. Examples of some defense mechanisms are denial, refusing to accept reality and denying that they have a problem, distortion, “changing views of reality to meet internal needs”, fantasy, retreating into a fantasy world to escape problems, repression, blocking out bad memories or feelings, reaction formation, actions that are completely opposite of what someone is feeling, dissociation, a drastic change of personality, sublimation, changing negative emotions to positive actions, behaviors, or emotions, and suppression, delaying dealing with an emotion, then later dealing with it and accepting it (Cobain 83). A lot of depressed teens turn to alcohol and drugs in order to escape their feelings or problems. Abusing certain drugs can lead to or worsen depression. Depressed teens are twice as likely to use drugs as non-depressed teens (Wolf 22). If depression is left untreated, it can lead to suicide. Warning signs of someone who is suicidal are severe, prolonged depression, sudden mood swings, change of friends or eating/sleeping habits, making a will, a suicide threat, or a previous suicide attempt. 90% of the people that contemplate suicide have some type of mental disorder (Denkmire 130).

Unfortunately, there are many cases of depressed teens in the world. For example, David is 19 years old, and has major depression. His grandfather had depression and his great uncle had manic depression (bipolar disorder). He has a weight problem, so he was always teased at school. He hated going to school and it caused him extreme anxiety, which can lead to depression. By the time he was in middle school, he cried all the way to school everyday. He began seeing a therapist in 4th grade. He was then diagnosed with agoraphobia, the fear of open places, but he realized he was only afraid of going to school. His fears and anxiety got even worse when he got to high school. He dropped out, and went to see a psychiatrist. They discovered that he had a chemical imbalance in his brain and he got antidepressants, which helped him a lot. Today, he is happy, graduating from a 4-year alternative school, and he scuba dives with his father every Friday (Cobain 48).

Depression is very treatable, and there are many ways to help cure it or alleviate many of the symptoms. One can talk to psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, general physicians, psychotherapists, or counselors. One way of treatment is therapy. There are many different kinds of therapy that are designed for certain problems or symptoms. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, involves talking about concerns, learning to correctly express emotions, and solve the problems that came with or caused the depression. Cognitive-behavior therapy changes negative or distorted views of the world, future, and of oneself and helps the depressed person view things more positively. Interpersonal therapy solves current problems with people and relationships, and helps people to learn communication skills. Family therapy involves meeting alone and with family. It helps all family members understand and deal with depression, and communicate with each other better. It also investigates to see if the cause of depression is family problems. Group therapy is the last type. Some people feel uncomfortable, but some feel less isolated and alone in group therapy. Also, they only have to talk when they want to (Moragne 54). Another form of treatment is medication, or antidepressants. Some common antidepressants are Prozac, Lexapro, and Cymbalta. Antidepressants don’t always work for everyone. For 30-35% of people, antidepressants don’t help. One more form of treatment is called ECT, electroconvulsive therapy. ECT has a higher success rate in treating depression than any other form of treatment. It is used for patients whose depression was not helped by psychotherapy or medication, and are at high risk for suicide. An electric current is sent through the brain, which causes a slight seizure and changes brain waves (“What is electroconvulsive therapy?” www. #1). Experts are still not exactly sure how ECT cures depression (Cobain 112).

The topic of depression relates to the realistic fiction novel Speak, by Laurie Halse-Anderson, because the main character Melinda is obviously depressed. Another character, Melinda’s friend Heather even said to Melinda, “You are the most depressed person I have ever met.” The cause of her depression isn’t clearly shown in the book, but it could be for a number of reasons. It could be because a boy named Andy Evans raped her at a party over the summer while she was drunk. Traumatic events like that can cause people to become depressed. Another reason could be a bad family life. Her parents always fight and she never talk to them, so the family doesn’t communicate. Another possible cause is that she lost all of her friends and was left completely alone. The reader can tell that Melinda is depressed because she doesn’t talk, has bad grades, sleeps a lot, and she has the nervous habit of biting her lips, which could be a sign of psychomotor retardation. She is always sad, and most of the time she looks at things negatively. Also, it is shown that she doesn’t like herself by the way she talks and feels about herself. By the end of the book, people started realizing her symptoms. People like Mr. Freeman, the art teacher, started to talk to her. She became more comfortable and confident and started talking to people, and feeling better, and her depression finally lessened (Speak Halse-Anderson).

Knowing the causes, warning signs, and how to help can greatly reduce the risk of depression in teens. There are many causes and different types of depression. There are also many ways to deal with and treat it. Depression is very different for everyone that experiences it, but it still causes severe emotional pain for the affected person, their friends, and their family.