Depression: Condition In Teenagers Can Be Life, Death

OKLAHOMA CITY — Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for teens between the ages of 15 and 19 years old.

Eyewitness News 5’s Maggie Carlo continued her series on depression with an examination of the dramatic effects the condition can have on teenagers and why it’s so important to get kids help at the first sign of trouble. Luke Handley now volunteers his time to help teenagers in trouble. However, he was once in deep trouble. Only 17, Handley has already battled a disease that nearly cost him his life. “You got all this pain on the inside that you are feeling, and it hurts so bad,” Handley said. 

Instead of spending his early teenage years being a regular kid, Handley was wrestling with depression. “I went from being outside with friends everyday, playing sports, football to (becoming) a couch potato sitting in my room everyday,” he said. “I’d just lay there not talking to anyone, not do nothing — sit there in the dark.”

Handley’s mother thought at first that his behavioral change was something more akin to being a typical teenager. “I just thought he was acting out at times, and he has always been very quiet so and always very to himself,” said Grace McCombs. “I didn’t realize it was depression.” Only when Handley’s school called to say that Luke was fighting with a teacher that she realized her son was in real trouble.”He apparently told the teacher that he was going to commit suicide,” McCombs said.

Experts said there are warning signs parents can look for:

  • A change in appearance.
  • A change in attitude.
  • A drop in school performance.
  • General irritability.
  • Sadness.
  • Anger.
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions.
  • Substance abuse.

Looking back, McCombs said there are signs she missed. “He used to listen to country, and then he went to some really weird music … and looking back now, the position I’m in now, I see that change but I never seen it before,” she said.

Handley went into family therapy and worked through his depression. He spends his time volunteering to help other troubled teens. “Really, there is nothing to be ashamed of depression because you never know when it is going to hit you. It can happen to anyone; I don’t care who you are,” he said.

Glossary of Depression related terms

agoraphobia – The fear of being in public places. People suffering from agoraphobia avoid normal activities that involve crowds, as exposure to these activities may cause panic. See phobias and panic.

amphetamines – A central nervous system stimulant used to treat narcolepsy and certain types of depression. Large doses are toxic, and prolonged use may cause drug dependence.

anhedonia – The inability to feel pleasure or happiness from experiences or events that have ordinarily been pleasurable.

antidepressant medications – A class of drugs that are used to treat depression. The efficacy of most antidepressants has been linked to their ability to increase concentrations of the neurotransmitters serotonin and/or norepinephrine in the synaptic cleft.

anxiety – A feeling of apprehension, worry or dread. A certain amount of anxiety is normal. Excess anxiety interferes with one’s daily life. (see anxiety disorders, anxiety neurosis).

anxiety disorders – A group of psychiatric disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and anxiety neurosis that are characterized by excessive anxiety.

anxiety neurosis – A mental disorder not restricted to specific situations or objects, often associated with other symptoms such as chest pain, constriction of the throat, or cold, sweaty extremities. This is separate from normal anxiety, which occurs in realistically threatening situations.

anxiolytic – A treatment to diminish anxiety, whether through drug, social or psychiatric therapy.

barbiturates – A class of drugs that depress the central nervous system and depress respiration, change heart rate, and decrease blood temperature and pressure. For sedative action, these drugs have been replaced by benzodiazepines.

benzodiazepines – A group of minor tranquilizing agents with similar chemical structure and pharmaceutical activity.

bereavement – Grief or depression that accompanies a great personal loss, usually of a loved one. Depressed mood at this time is considered normal, although the individual may seek professional help for associated symptoms of insomnia or lack of appetite. If symptoms last over 2 months, the person may be diagnosed with Major Depression.

biogenic amines – A term used to describe chemical substances that alter cerebral and vascular function, also known as “neurotransmitters”. They include dopamine, epinephrine, norephinephrine and serotonin. Biogenic amines are affected by drugs used to treat depression and related disorders.

bipolar disorder – Also known as “manic depression”, this disorder is characterized by mood swings from depression to mania, with very little in the middle.

cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – A type of psychological therapy where the patient learns to recognize negative or disruptive thought patterns (“cognitive distortions”) in themselves, and to modify behaviors resulting from those thoughts. A useful adjunctive therapy for the treatment of a broad spectrum of psychiatric disorders.

comorbid – When a depressive or anxiety disorder coexists with another mental and/or physical disorder, often complicating both diagnosis and treatment.

complementary medicine – Treatments for medical disorders that may be administered by a physician or by a practitioner of homeopathy, herbology, etc. These include herbal treatments, relaxation therapies, acupuncture, etc.

compliance – Fulfillment on the part of the patient with the treatment prescribed by their physician (e.g., taking medication as prescribed, attending therapy sessions).

continuation treatment – Treatment intended to prevent the return of the most recent mood episode.

cyclic antidepressants – Used to treat depression and related disorders. Cyclic antidepressants equilibrate the effects of neurotransmitters in the brain through a variety of mechanisms.

dementia – A deteriorating mental state with a variety of causes, characterized by reduction of intellectual faculties, including memory, judgement and abstract thinking. There may be associated poor impulse control and/or personality change. Dementia may be progressive, reversible or static.

depression – A mood disorder characterized by a loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness, and loss of interest in all usually pleasurable outlets, including food, sex, work, friends, or entertainment. Often accompanied by recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. Diagnosis is made when at least 5 of a group of symptoms have been present for at least 2 weeks, including depressed mood and loss of interest.

dopamine – A type of neurotransmitter (or brain chemical) thought to be affected in a person with depression. Increasing the availability of dopamine is one of the strategies used in treating depression.

dysthymia – A mood disorder related to depression, with many of the same symptoms. However, thoughts of suicide and death are typically absent, and the individual is usually able to function. Patients with dysthymic disorder typically have been depressed most of the day, on most days, for at least 2 years.

electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) – A type of treatment for acute depression wherein the patient is administered a mild electrical shock producing a convulsion or seizure, which accounts for the therapeutic effect. Effective in patients whose depression is resistant to drug therapy or in those who cannot take an antidepressant.

endorphins – Chemical substances produced in the brain that reduce the feeling of pain by blocking the receptor sites involved in pain perception.

euthymia – A term used to describe a balance of mood – i.e., neither depressed nor manic.

exposure therapy – A type of therapy used to treat anxiety disorders such as OCD or a phobia, where a patient is put in a situation that will provoke anxiety, and they must learn to refrain from compulsive rituals or panic.

generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) – A chronic, non-specific anxiety lasting at least 6 months characterized by excessive worry over everything, including the excessive worrying itself.

grief – A normal emotional outlet for great personal loss (see bereavement).

grief-counselling therapy – Treatment to help people deal with significant loss or bereavement.

herbal antidepressants – Complementary therapies for the treatment of depression using herbs and botanicals thought to alter mood.

hypomania – A distinct period of elevated, expansive or irritable mood, for at least four days, that is distinctly different from the person’s usual non-depressed mood.

insomnia – Inability to sleep, or sleep prematurely ended or interrupted by periods of wakefulness. A symptom of some anxiety and mood disorders.

interpersonal therapy (IPT) – A psychotherapy that is based on the concept that depressive symptoms occur within the context of disturbed relationships. IPT helps patients understand their feelings and how their personal problems and conflicts relate to their depression.

light therapy – A treatment used for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) where the patient is exposed to intense levels of artificial light under controlled conditions. Treatment consists of sitting close to the light source, with eyes open, for a prescribed length of time, once or twice a day.

maintenance treatment – Treatment intended to prevent a new depressive episode (including depression, mania, hypomania).

major depressive episode – A period of depression whereby the individual is unable to go about their daily life. Approximately half of those who have one major depressive episode will develop another. See major depressive disorder.

major depressive disorder – When an individual has more than one episode of major depression, they are said to have major depressive disorder. There may or may not be full recovery between episodes.

mania – A mood disorder characterized by periods of abnormally and persistently elevated mood, overactivity, over-production of ideas and exalted thoughts.

megavitamin therapy – A complementary therapy for depression and other illnesses where certain vitamins are taken in extremely large daily doses.

melancholy, melancholic features – Symptoms usually found in severe major depressive episodes, including notable loss of pleasure, psychomotor retardation or agitation, weight loss and insomnia.

monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) – The first class of antidepressants. MAOIs prevent the metabolism of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine by inhibiting the enzyme monoamine oxidase, making these chemicals more available for normal brain function.

mood disorder – A pattern of illness defined by a disturbance of mood (such as profound sadness, apathy, euphoria or irritability), including depression, dysthymia, bipolar affective disorder, mania, hypomania and other disorders.

mood stabilizers – Another term for drugs designed to alter the chemical balance in the brain and allow moods to balance or stabilize.

neurotransmitters – Brain chemicals that travel from one neuron or nerve cell (the presynaptic cell) across a small gap (the synaptic cleft) to attach to receptor molecules on the surface of the second neuron (the postsynaptic cell), thereby carrying a signal between cells. Neurotransmitters include norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine and acetylcholine. The most is known about serotonin and norepinephrine.

norepinephrine – One of the neurotransmitters involved in depression. Research is being conducted into developing drugs that are able to selectively block norepinephrine reuptake, as this action has been shown to be effective in relieving depression.

obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – A mood disorder characterized by the irresistible drive to perform and repeat rituals or behaviors in order to decrease anxiety.

panic attack – A sudden and intense attack of anxiety that begins with a sense of foreboding, accompanied by physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, chest pain and flushing in the face. Usually, the attack comes on within 10 minutes of feeling something isn’t right, builds to a peak and then subsides in under 30 minutes.

panic disorder – An anxiety disorder characterized by attacks of acute anxiety, terror or fear that occur suddenly. These attacks are typically brief and self-contained but they can be severely debilitating if left untreated. They may be caused by or cause phobias, and may be accompanied by agoraphobia.

phobia – A persistent and irrational fear of a specific object, activity or situation that results in a compelling desire to avoid that situation. Phobias include agoraphobia, social phobia and simple phobias.

postpartum depression – Occurs in about 3% of women after giving birth and is characterized by tearfulness, despondency, a feeling of hopelessness, inability to cope with infant care, extreme anxiety and guilt. Women suffering from postpartum depression should seek help immediately; prognosis is good. To be distinguished in severity from postpartum blues, which occur in 50 to 80% of women within a week of giving birth, and consists of 1 to 4 days of moodiness and tearfulness.

posttraumatic stress disorder – A condition suffered by survivors of extraordinary events (for example, war, plane crashes, traumatic or violent situations either experienced or witnessed). Symptoms include hypervigilance, inability to trust, nightmares, “real-feeling” flashbacks and loss of interest in enjoyable activities.

premenstrual syndrome (PMS) – Also known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder, PMS is experienced by some women during the week prior to the onset of their menstrual cycle and is characterized by depressed mood, anxiety and major mood swings, and may be severe enough to interfere with work and normal activities. True PMS affects only a small percentage of women.

psychosis – A term formerly used for any mental disorder, but now restricted to disturbances that cause personality disintegration and loss of contact with reality.

psychotherapy – “Talk therapy” – a method of treating depressive and anxiety disorders by helping individuals change their mental process or way of thinking or approaching situations that cause them distress. See cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy.

recurrence – Appearance of another episode of a disease (such as depressive and anxiety disorders) after a previous episode has shown a response to treatment.

relapse – Return of symptoms of a disease (including depressive and anxiety disorders) after the patient has appeared to respond to treatment, but before symptoms have been completely resolved.

reversible inhibitors of monoamine oxidase (RIMAs) – Indicated for the treatment of depression and related mood disorders, RIMAs are a new generation of MAOIs developed specifically to be safer than their older counterparts. Like MAOIs, RIMAs inhibit the enzyme, monoamine oxidase, and by preserving the activity of brain chemicals involved in depression, make these chemicals more available for normal brain function. RIMAs do not, however, have many of the dietary restrictions that made the MAOIs dangerous and difficult for patients to take.

seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – A type of depression associated with loss of daylight, usually experienced in the winter in the northern hemisphere. SAD affects 3 – 5 % of adults in Canada, with 4 times more women than men affected; it is characterized by a chronic depression, fatigue, and carbohydrate cravings, with regular onset in the fall and offset in the spring. See light therapy.

serotonin – One of the neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals, involved in depression.

selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – A class of drugs for the treatment of depression and related disorders that inhibit the reuptake of serotonin and affect the action of receptors, but do not affect other brain chemicals. The SSRIs have revolutionized the treatment of depression since the late 1980s because they are highly effective and produce much fewer side effects than the older antidepressants.

side effects – Effects of a drug treatment that are in addition to the desirable effects of that treatment. Side effects may in rare instances be considered favourable, but are more likely to be considered as unfavourable (physical effects such as nausea, headache, constipation, sexual dysfunction, etc. are commonly encountered). Side effects of treatment often are the cause of non-compliance, or discontinuing the therapy.

social phobia – Also known as social anxiety disorder; characterized by unusual or intense anxiety associated with encounters with unfamiliar people or situations, or situations that may involve being watched by others (speaking to a group, attending parties or business meetings, eating or writing in public).

tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) – A class of drugs used in the treatment of depression and other mood disorders. TCAs increase concentrations of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin, leaving more of these brain chemicals available for use. Over time, this helps restore normal function and lifts the feeling of depression. TCAs have a relatively high affinity for numerous other receptors, resulting in a higher incidence of side effects with these drugs.