It can be difficult to figure out what is causing an adolescent to show symptoms of depression. Is it stress, the divorce, drugs or has he always been this way?
Depression may be caused by any combination of factors including biology, genetics, stress and personality factors. Negative thought patterns often contribute to the development of depression.
Cognitive theories of depression state that negative thinking increases a person’s likelihood of developing and maintaining symptoms of depression. This can be in response to stressful life events. Basically, our perception influences what we feel which in turn affects our actions.
This theory removes depression from being purely a “mood state” and identifies it as a result of negative thinking that has a powerful impact on a person. These negative thought patterns can send a person down an emotional spiral, in which they feel trapped and unable to recover. This phenomenon has been termed learned helplessness. Helping a teen to discover and work with these negative thought patterns can be tremendously helpful.
There are some common characteristics that can be found in the thinking of people with depression. Aaron Beck, an American psychiatrist, said that depressed people have a very negative view of themselves, as worthless, inadequate, unlovable or deficient. They also see their environment or the events of their life in a negative way by misinterpreting the available information, i.e. what they see, hear or feel. This often results in a person feeling defeat, humiliation, rejection or inadequacy.
A teenager who suffers from depression may see their future as hopeless. It may seem like nothing will change the course of their life and their current difficulties will continue. Many other symptoms of depression can be connected back to these negative thoughts.
A downward spiral
These patterns of processing information can send a depressed teenager into absolute thinking where they view themselves and their actions as “all-bad.” There is no longer any rational context to make sense of their experiences. The teenager’s thinking may become rigid and fixed.
It is easy to see how an adolescent could get caught in this cycle of negative thoughts, especially when you factor in the numerous pressures that modern teens face every day. Dr. Beck said that these cognitive patterns are often as unconscious as the functioning of the internal organs, but their product may be quite conscious.
Cognitive therapy for depression
On a positive note, cognitive therapy for depression has been studied extensively and has often been shown to be as effective or even superior to alternative interventions, such as medication.
I have certainly found this to be true in my practice when counseling teenage boys with depression. This is why I often recommend trying therapy first, before medication is even considered, except in more serious cases of depression.
Stay tuned, in the next few posts I will be covering the biological perspective of depression and further treatment options.
Photo credit: Dendroica cerulea