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Do I have major depression?

Asked by Belle, Dallas, Texas

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Hi, I am a teen in high school and I was wondering whether or not I should talk to my doctor, again, about taking medicine for depression. I have been so depressed for roughly two years, however it has progressively gotten worse. I have done some research and I have almost all the symptoms of depression.

I have told many trusted adults including my own parents, my doctor, and my siblings, however all of them just say it's just a phase I'm passing through. Truly though, I know what I'm feeling and doing is not normal; my grades are dropping, I have gained weight, I have withdrawn from society, I am always tired, my period is late, I never feel happy, some days, I sleep way too much, and I wake up angry, sad, or crying.

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Mental Health Expert Dr. Charles Raison Psychiatrist,
Emory University Medical School

Expert answer:

Dear Belle,

I am sorry to hear of your difficulties. You are having a "textbook" major depression, with all the symptoms that are especially common when teenagers get depressed. Eating too much, sleeping too much -- these are classic markers for serious depression in young people. It's paradoxical, but when it comes to depression, the more a person sleeps the more tired she feels. Sleeping too much almost always goes with feeling exhausted. You don't mention it, but it's common for depressed people who eat and sleep too much to also have feelings of extreme heaviness in their arms and legs.

Based on what you describe, I strongly disagree with anyone who tells you this is just a phase, which usually is code talk for "just ignore it." The scientific data are very clear that when someone has the symptoms you do, it is imperative she gets treatment, and the sooner the better.

For example, a recent study showed that teenagers who develop depression and are treated with an antidepressant do much better for a number of years afterward than kids who get depressed and don't get treatment. Psychotherapy is also very effective and would be another very good option for you, depending on what your circumstances allow.

Let me make an additional comment, more in the way of something to watch out for than anything you need to worry about now. We know from lots of studies that people who have the kind of depression you've got (eating too much, sleeping too much, etc.) are at increased risk of developing bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depression, when they get older. This is a very serious, but very treatable condition that is best addressed early on.

What differentiates bipolar disorder from regular depression is that folks with bipolar disorder have what are called manic or hypomanic episodes during which they become very energized, sometimes euphoric, sometimes enraged. They don't need much sleep and often do risky things they regret later.

I don't bring all this up to worry you more, but only so that you can use that great common sense of yours, and ability to research things, to keep an eye on yourself. And by all means, please go talk to your doctor about getting treatment as soon as you can.

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