Depression and anxiety disorders are different, but people with depression often experience symptoms similar to those of an anxiety disorder, such as nervousness, irritability, and problems sleeping and concentrating.
But each disorder has its own causes and its own emotional and behavioural symptoms.
Many adults who develop depression have a history of an anxiety disorder earlier in their life, or as a child or teenager. There is no evidence one disorder causes the other, but there is clear evidence that many people suffer from both disorders.
Anxiety is a normal part of adolescence, and every child goes through phases. A phase is temporary and usually harmless. But teenagers who suffer from an anxiety disorder or depression experience fear, nervousness, and shyness, and they start to avoid places and activities.
Research shows that untreated teenagers with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.
Anxiety disorders often co-occur with depression as well as eating disorders and the following:
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – very hard on themselves and strive for perfection. May need constant approval or reassurance.
- Panic Disorder – unexpected panic or anxiety attacks. Come on suddenly and for no reason. Concern for losing control in future.
- Separation Anxiety Disorder – experiences excessive anxiety away from home or when separated from parents or caregivers. Extreme homesickness and feelings of misery at not being with loved ones.
- Social Anxiety Disorder – an intense fear of social and performance situations and activities such as being called on in class or starting a conversation with a peer or adult.
- Specific Phobias – an intense, irrational fear of a specific object. Common childhood phobias include animals, storms, heights, water, blood, the dark, and medical procedures.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – unwanted and intrusive, obsessive thoughts and feeling compelled to repeatedly perform rituals and routines (compulsions) to try and ease anxiety.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – intense fear and anxiety after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic or life-threatening event. Can also develop after ongoing trauma, such as domestic violence or bullying.
What happens when depression or anxiety is left untreated in teenagers?
Consequences of depression range from mild to severe and may appear years after a depressive episode, especially when left untreated. I have listed a few common scenarios below.
Teenagers with depression may begin to withdraw from friends, family, or both. They may appear unfriendly to others or irritate them.
Unfortunately, this can lead to the loss of relationships, difficulty forming and keeping new relationships and the potential for getting involved in negative or abusive relationships in the future as an adult.
As an adult, relationships require effort, and maintaining them can be extremely difficult for someone suffering a mental illness. The effort required to maintain the relationships in their life can sometimes be too much.
When depression creeps in, something as simple as sending a text message can become exhausting. The anxiety can destroy any idea of a romantic relationship and panic attacks can leave a person a recluse.
Symptoms can be mistaken for neglect or carelessness and even closest friends can blame the person for what is beyond their control, thus leaving them with possible feelings of abandonment, lack of trust and general withdrawal of social or familial relationship to avoid those feelings altogether.
Teenagers who have had a depressive episode, especially those with untreated depression, are more likely to experience recurrent depressive episodes or to develop an additional mental illness as an adult if not diagnosed or treated early.
Almost twice as many adult women compared to men have clinical or recurrent depression. These can be attributed to hormonal changes during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, miscarriage, and menopause.
Without proper treatment, including antidepressants and/or psychotherapy, untreated recurrent depression can last for months or years and can also take a serious physical toll on a person.
Extreme tiredness, loss of energy and libido, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, and weight gain or loss are some common physical symptoms of chronic depression.
Reckless or Risky Behaviour
Teenagers who are depressed may engage in behaviours that they would otherwise avoid because they are dangerous. This can include reckless driving, vandalism, breaking the rules at school or otherwise getting in trouble with the law.
Taking unnecessary risks as an adolescent can lead to more worrying types of behaviour as an adult and can include eating disorders, self-harm, alcohol and substance abuse, physical abuse, and thoughts of suicide.
For some teenagers, substance use may be a way of self-medicating to feel better or “normal.” Substance abuse due to childhood depression typically begins in adolescence but may start as early as age 10.
As an adult, if the behaviour starts affecting other areas of their life, such as family or work, it is defined as an addiction.
In addition to drugs and alcohol, these behaviours can include shopping, sex, gambling, and beyond. Some people even find themselves becoming addicted to work to avoid dealing with their depression.
Academic/Employment Decline and Failure
A common symptom of childhood depression is academic decline. When this is present and the teen’s depression remains untreated, the problem is likely to get worse and to be more difficult to recover from as an adult.
Depression doesn’t just occur for an individual, it can affect their co-workers, and everyone around them at work or in class. In addition, depression may impact how they perform or their levels of concentration, so it can negatively affect productivity.
As a result, their future may be compromised greatly due to making bad decisions or not coping with everyday work or classroom stress.
Suicidal Thought and Behaviours
The most serious risk of depression is suicide. Feelings of hopelessness, isolation and feeling worthless may lead to thoughts of ending their pain and suffering on a daily basis.
About 90 percent of people who commit suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death. Depression is the top risk factor, but there are various other mental health disorders that can contribute to suicide, including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Teenagers face a host of pressures, from the changes of puberty to questions about who they are and where they fit in. With all this turmoil and uncertainty, it isn’t always easy to differentiate between normal teenage growing pains and anxiety or depression.
But teen depression goes beyond moodiness. It’s a serious health problem that impacts every aspect of a teen’s life. Fortunately, it’s treatable and parents can help.
If you have any concerns about your teenager, or would simply like some more information on anxiety and depression, please call me for a chat.