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Weekend: Mental Health Moment

By LINDA BRANWELL
Many of us have days where we feel sad or “in a funk.” Then there are others who are overwhelmed with emptiness and despair. They feel worthless and hopeless.
Clinicians are sometimes challenged in diagnosing depression, especially with adolescents and older adults, because their symptoms mimic other behaviors.
With adolescents, symptoms of depression might be perceived as “teenage moodiness.” Attendance issues, behavior and academic problems, inability to concentrate, irritability, withdrawing from classmates and friends or any thoughts of suicide or death wishes could be red flags for depression.
Experts find that depression affects about 11 percent of adolescents before they reach 18 years of age, perhaps because they are less prepared to manage the stressors and pressures in their lives.
They also tell us that major depression is rising among adolescent girls, perhaps because they are reaching puberty earlier than in the past.
In trying to measure up to what society expects, girls receive mixed messages. One message tells them they should “succeed and be competitive,” while at the same time they are being told to be “kind, caring and compassionate.”
It is like a double-edge sword because these girls may worry about their friends’ feelings, even as they try to compete against them athletically or academically.
Experts also tell us that girls tend to worry excessively.
For example, if their friend is going through a difficult time, they allow their friend’s problem to become their problem. They also believe that girls are more likely than boys to obsess over problems with their friends, whereas boys tend to problem solve and take action.
When working with adolescent girls, who are struggling with depression, teachers, counselors and parents should be mindful of the following.
• Take the depressive symptoms seriously. Avoid dismissing her behavior as being “a typical, moody teenager.”
• Address her relationships with significant people in her life, such as family and friends. Be aware, though, peers at this age are sometimes more important than family.
• Assess her activity level online. Research shows that girls report that social networking and texting help them feel closer to their friends; the girls also report that it can cause them to feel jealous, depressed or sad, especially when others do not respond to their communication in the way they expect.
• Finally, if the adolescent’s symptoms persist, call a mental health specialist.
(Next Saturday: Depression among seniors.)
Branwell, a licensed independent social worker with a specialization in chemical dependency, is owner of Espero Wellness & Counseling Center Ltd., Findlay. If you have a mental health question, please write to: Mental Health Moment, The Courier, P.O. Box 609, Findlay, OH 45839.

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