Major Depression Disorder Treatment Options For Teens

According to the CDC, 44% of high school students reported feeling sad and hopeless, while nearly 20% had serious thoughts of committing suicide. With depression and suicide risks prevalent, you want to find the most effective treatment to guarantee their long-term safety.

Teen brains and bodies are still developing, so you want to minimize the systemic side effects and potential detrimental long-term consequences even if it combats the depression effectively. Some treatment options for teens include antidepressants, counseling, and therapies like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). There are many alternative therapy options, but brain stimulation for depression outshines most other treatment options in terms of efficiency, efficacy, and safety.

How Do You Know Your Teen is Depressed?

Teenagers at baseline can be moody, withdrawn, and irritable, so it can be challenging to identify classic depression symptoms. However, you know your child, and you can see when they are not acting like themselves, especially if it lasts longer than a few weeks. A drop in grades, difficulty concentrating, a general lack of interest in activities they used to enjoy, or a change in sleep, eating, or personal grooming habits could all be signs they are depressed.

Expressing that they are feeling worthless or hopeless is a significant warning sign. Make it clear that you are taking their feelings seriously, that you are making an effort to understand what’s going on with them, and you are not passing judgment. Ask open-ended questions without trying to jump in and fix their problems. You are there to listen, so they feel more receptive and comfortable reaching out when they need to talk.

Counseling and Psychotherapy

There’s individual, group, and family talk therapy, so both your teen and your family can understand themselves, the nature of depression, and how to cope together with the symptoms effectively. Therapy can help your teen learn about the causes and triggers of their depression, how to identify and make changes to unhealthy behaviors or negative thinking patterns, and find more effective ways to problem-solve and learn coping skills. They can ease their depression symptoms while regaining a sense of happiness and control in their life.

There are multiple therapeutic approaches: interpersonal, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and dialectical behavior therapy, a form of CBT. There’s also family-based interpersonal therapy geared for preadolescent children with depression. Choosing a therapist is highly personalized, so you need to allow your teen to find someone they feel comfortable opening up to and can establish a rapport with. You should also consider their evidence-based practice, willingness to include family members in therapy, and experience treating children and teens.

Be aware that therapy typically is most effective when coupled with another treatment option.

Antidepressants or Pharmacotherapy

The FDA-approved medications fluoxetine (Prozac) and escitalopram (Lexapro) are the two most common antidepressants for teenagers. They belong to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drug class.

Side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, drowsiness or insomnia, dry mouth, dizziness, nervousness, agitation, sexual dysfunction or decreased libido, and changes to appetite resulting in either weight loss or gain. Rare side effects include an increased risk of bleeding, serotonin syndrome, and increased risk of suicide. The last is the most concerning, as it is more common for anyone under 25 to experience increased suicidal thoughts or behavior when starting an antidepressant or changing the dose.

Pharmacotherapy has made a living with a mental illness bearable. However, the side effects sometimes don’t outweigh the benefits. Being a teenager is hard enough without dealing with medication-induced weight gain or a brain fog more severe than the depression caused.

Hospitalization and Outpatient Treatment Programs

When depression is more severe, and your teen is at risk of hurting themselves or others, you must consider an inpatient treatment program. Not all programs are created equal, so always research the programs in your area or that your insurance will cover. In some cases, a day program may be the better option. They can help by providing more structure, therapy, support, and exercise while your teen gets their depression under control, learns coping skills, and develops a safety plan.

In extreme cases, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is a last resort. If indicated for a teen, doctors typically administer ECT during an inpatient program as part of their treatment.

TMS Therapy for Depression

Because teens’ brains are still developing, they are more susceptible to drugs and ECT and the damage they have the potential to cause. Transmagnetic stimulation also called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), has no systemic side effects and a high success rate. It’s a promising therapy for teenagers with depression since there are no long-term risks, allowing and facilitating healthy brain development during a critical period for your teen.

Many treatment options can complement each other: art therapy, yoga, music therapy, simply spending time outside in the sunshine or a sun lamp during the winter, exercise, and TMS. Finding the right fit for your teen can be difficult, balancing your desire for their safety and the decisions they want to make about their body. Whether you chose the traditional route of antidepressants and counseling or are already leaning towards alternative treatment options, don’t underestimate the power of complementary therapies. They cannot make your teen’s depression worse, are very unlikely to do any harm, and are non-invasive compared to their medicine-heavy counterparts. Find what works for them, but these therapies can work together with other treatments. Speak to your doctor today about your options.