By Chase Myers, LMHCA, BYS Therapist

Down, blue, gloomy — there are a thousand different ways to tell someone you are sad, and those are just the verbal cues. If I were to ask you to think of a sad person what comes to mind? Mourners at a funeral perhaps. Or maybe a person on the couch with tears in their eyes and a pint of ice cream in their hand. Now, if I were to ask you to think of a depressed person, would they look the same or different than the sad person? Maybe this person is sitting alone in a quiet room, or stuck in bed unable to begin their day. While there may be some overlap between the two, hopefully our imaginations made certain distinctions between them. Why then, if we are aware of the differences between depression and sadness, do we so often conflate the two?

According to the World Health Organization, depression has increased by 25% since the beginning of the pandemic. Young people accounted for the majority of this increase.(1) With this in mind, it is critical for both parents and teens to know how to identify depression within themselves and others. Sadness is an emotion, and like other emotions, it is an internal reaction to an external influence. Our favorite team lost the big game or a reminder of a loved one who is no longer with us. In these examples, we can directly connect the emotion to things that we care about.  Depression is less of a specific feeling and more of a state of being. It may be easier to think of it as a mental filter in which all experiences and emotions are numbed or dulled.

Does depression look like the quiet child that sits alone in the corner? Or is it the straight-A student surrounded by friends at lunchtime?  For most of us, our instinct is to choose the former child. Yet by that logic, no one with friends or any level of success could be depressed, and we know that this is not true. There is no level of status, wealth, or number of friends that makes us immune to depression. Depression can impact anyone and can show up in different ways depending on the person. With the complex and often deceitful nature of this disease, it can make spotting those who are suffering difficult. Those with depression are often not aware of what is happening to them, and this is especially true for teens. Losing interest in things and changing behaviors is part of growing up. So, it is understandable to think, “This must be how everyone feels, I am just bad at dealing with it.” 

If your child or loved one shows any signs of depression, try your best to not jump into problem solving mode. Instead try to use this as an opportunity to connect and learn more about this condition together. While it is not always easy, it is important to try to approach them without judgment or expectation. It is also important to understand that giving advice can be counterproductive by making them feel inadequate or alienated. Let them know that depression is not a personality flaw or weakness. It is a symptom of illness and, like many illnesses, there are treatments.

While we may not always know how to help someone with depression, we do know some things that have proven to be beneficial. Support, care, and understanding are wonderful places to start.