Integrative Treatment of Depression in Teens & Adolescents

One of the most well-known psychological disorders in adults is depression. However, depression also occurs in children and adolescents. Untreated depression in adolescents has many negative consequences: It can interfere with important developmental tasks of this period, such as becoming independent, making friends, dating, and preparing for college or a career. And, in more severe cases, it can even lead to suicide and death.
In this article, we review mind-body interventions for depression in teens.

Depression in teen years

Major depressive disorder, as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), is characterized foremost by depressed mood—in some children and adolescents, it might present as irritable mood as well. Other symptoms of depression comprise loss of interest and pleasure, psychomotor changes (e.g., agitation), fatigue, sleep issues, weight and appetite changes, feelings of guilt and worthlessness, concentration difficulties, and thoughts of suicide.

In 2017, 3.2 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 years reported having experienced one or more episodes of major depression in the previous year. Compared to 2007, this represents an increase of more than 60%. However, only 45% of girls and 33% of boys with recent episodes of depression had received treatment for depression in the previous year.
Let us now review what these treatments entail and what other interventions are available.

Depression in adolescents

Typically, depression is treated with medications called antidepressants. A commonly prescribed group of antidepressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Some examples are Prozac and Lexapro.
Though SSRIs and other antidepressants can be helpful in treating depression, they are not effective for every kind of depression. Nor are they without risks and side effects.

Therefore, a more integrative approach to the treatment of depression might be more effective. This is important because neither the causes nor the effects of depression are limited to the biological functioning of the brain. For instance, many teens with depression report poor diets, lack supportive relationships and feel their lives have no purpose.

Participation of teens in their depression treatment

A holistic approach also promotes greater participation of teens in their own treatment and gives them the tools they require to address all their needs (e.g., physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual). In addition, it focuses on lifestyle changes, like eating well, regular exercise, and healthy sleep habits.

Building social support, including support at home, will also be emphasized. While some teens already have warm and supportive relationships with their families, this is not always the case. In fact, family relationships could be a major source of stress for teens and worsen their depressive symptoms.

In such cases, family therapy may help improve family communication and reduce stress for teens and parents.

CBT for Treatment of Depression in Teens & Adolescents

As for individual therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is recommended. The basic idea behind CBT is this: Because it is difficult to change one’s emotions directly (e.g., to try not to feel sadness or anger), it might be more effective to modify one’s thoughts and behaviors, which then influence one’s emotions.

In therapy, teens learn to observe their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They then learn techniques to test and challenge erroneous thoughts (e.g., automatic self-blame) and to replace them with more accurate and realistic ones. Therapy also teaches new behavioral skills, such as the skills needed to build better relationships. Teens are encouraged to practice the skills learned in therapy between sessions and in situations outside therapy.

Such an integrative approach to depression—combining therapy, lifestyle changes, and sometimes medications (for more severe cases)—has a very good chance of addressing the causes and contributing factors to teenage depression.

What is Treatment-Resistant Depression?

Treatment-resistant depression is depression that has failed to respond to at least 3 antidepressant medications from different drug classes.

What is Spravato?

Spravato Nasal Spray is a new FDA approved medication for treatment of chronic depression in adults. Please fill out the form to download our patient guide to get more information on this medication, who is the right candidate, treatment options, and potential side effects.

Talk to your doctor to see if Spravato is right for you.

Please note that Spravato can only be administered in a medically supervised healthcare setting that has been recognized as a certified treatment center.

Download your copy of:

Spravato Patient Guide

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About Harbor Psychiatry & Mental Health

We believe outstanding healthcare is delivered when we merge the science of medicine with the compassion of our hearts. We refer to this as “head and heart together,” inspiring constant improvement and lasting success.
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