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  • Writer's pictureNatalie Tai

TEENAGE DEPRESSION & MENTAL HEALTH

Updated: Jul 17, 2021

Trigger Warning: This article is a discussion about mental health issues and may touch upon sensitive topics within the topic of depression and anxiety.

Mental illnesses have stained the story of our generation. Not one page, but chapters after chapters of anecdotes all tell the story of one dreadful nightmare. Our teenagers are falling sick. For centuries, depression, anxiety, and countless other psychiatric disorders have hurdled some of humanity’s most innocent and vulnerable. The countless turbulences in fumbled plotlines have blinded the silver lining for our young writers still searching for that holy grail. When the breadcrumb trails get lost over time, tracks gone may let the last milestone stand. But endings aren’t forever for a sequel may always await;


Broad Breakdown:


What is Depression?


Depression goes far beyond a simple expression. It is a psychological illness that affects people of all age groups. In Taiwan, about 13.3% of teenagers suffer from depression. In addition, according to Taiwan’s National Suicide Prevention Center, a staggering 7000 youths attempted suicide in 2018 alone, making it the third major leading cause of death for 12- to 17-year-olds.


Regardless of depressive disorders being so widespread, symptoms and causes oftentimes vary across patients, added to the fact that several types of depression can be diagnosed. Common types of depression include: Major Depression, Persistent Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Psychotic Depression, Postpartum Depression, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, Situational Depression, and Atypical Depression.


Each type of depression has its own characterizing symptoms though many overlaps across the general classifications of depressive disorders. Though depressive disorders are almost synonymous to mental health issues, both physical and mental symptoms can occur. During episodes of major depression, the following symptoms may appear: lasting sadness/hopelessness, irritability, loss of interest/pleasure in hobbies, sleep disturbances (oversleeping/insomnia), fatigue, change in appetite (increased/decreased cravings), anxiety, slowed thinking, having trouble concentration, physical problems (constipation, headaches, back pains, etc.). Among the teenage population, additional symptoms may include poor academic performance, poor attendance at school, feeling misunderstood, increased emotional sensitivity, substance abuse, avoidance of social interactions, and self-mutilation.


What is Anxiety?



Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses on a global basis, affecting about 1 in every 13 people around the world according to an estimation by the WHO. With Taiwan’s academic-heavy curriculum along with the culture’s strong tending towards occupations that require long hours of schooling and added stress, anxiety disorders are becoming more and more prevalent in the lives of schooling teenagers and college students. Out of the 32% (About 1 in 3) of Taiwanese youth affected by psychiatric disorders, anxiety share an overwhelming majority of the statistics.


Like depression, anxiety disorders vary in types, each characterized by symptoms significant to them. The main types of anxiety disorders include Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, anxiety disorder due to medical condition, Selective Mutism, Separation Anxiety Disorder, Social Phobia, Specific Phobias, and Substance-Induced Anxiety. Generally, symptoms of anxiety include: nervousness, restlessness, increased heart rate, hyperventilation, sweating, trembling, fatigue, trouble concentrating, excessive and uncontrollable worrying about the present, sleeping disturbances (insomnia, oversleeping), gastrointestinal problems, constant senses of impending panic or danger.


What are the Causes?


Why do people have Depression?


Like most mental disorders, the exact cause of depression isn’t known but various factors are found prone to contribute to its development. Inherited traits, hormone changes, brain chemistry, and biological differences are all assumed to be closely tied to depressive disorders. As of some of these causes, outside factors such as substance abuse, pregnancy, and endocrine problems (such as dysfunctional thyroid glands) all stand as risk factors for depression to develop or become triggered. Other factors that may increase the risk of depression include personality traits, trauma, having blood relations with people prone to other psychiatric disorders, identifying as LGBTQIA+, chronic illnesses, and taking medications that may disturb hormone levels in the body. If untreated, depressive disorders can worsen and lead to further complications such as obesity, physical illnesses, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, self-mutilation, and suicidal tendencies.


Why do people have Anxiety?


Though the underlying cause of anxiety isn’t scientifically clear, both inherited traits and events that happen later in life show correlation to anxiety disorders. Anxiety is oftentimes one of the first indicators or symptoms that alert doctors about an underlying medical condition in their patient, especially if the symptoms come suddenly without any early indicators of anxiety during childhood and neither have blood history with anxiety. Other risk factors of anxiety may include events of trauma, long-term stress, personality traits, other mental health disorders, and drug usage (misuse, withdrawal).


How Can I Help?


Awareness for mental health issues has progressed greatly over the years and more people are becoming familiar with the topic of depression and anxiety. Even so, Taiwan’s culture that still has roots in toxic masculinity and the stigma surrounding depression make it hard for people to get the support and love they need and deserve.


The best way to support someone affected by mental health issues is to learn and understand more about their illness first hand. By simply accepting depressive and anxiety disorders as treatable illnesses, just like the flu or a physical injury, and lending a hand when they need, are all great starting points to help with their recovery.


Though we all speak with the best of intentions, some things might be better off to leave to the professionals. Patience, trust, and unconditional support are important to keep in mind. When it comes to unofficial diagnoses, unwarranted prescriptions, personal assumptions, or advice beyond your knowledge, perhaps simply listening and validating their experiences is the better path to go.


During stressful times, paying attention to your own well-being is equally as important. Suicide hotlines and online resources (websites, personal blogs) are all great ways to seek guidance on supporting somebody else when you feel lost.


Resources (Forums, Resources, Stories):





A Soldier's Battle


“Ten spears go to battle," he whispered, "and nine shatter. Did the war forge the one that remained? No, Amaran. All the war did was identify the spear that would not break.”
— Brandon Sanderson, Oathbringer

When loneliness perseveres through a crowd of depression, help might seem unreachable. Seeking the resources, you feel most comfortable with is one of the most important things for teenagers to know. Whether it be a professional therapist, a school counselor, or strangers online, opening up to people remains one of the hardest yet critical and most prideful moments of the journey. Below are a few resources for those seeking help:


Blogs, Online Forums, Information







Taiwan Suicide Hotline: 1925


Answering common questions:


Q: What if I am unable to get my parent’s consent for a psychiatrist?


A: Minors are technically able to seek clinical help on their own in Taiwan; however, if the treatment requires therapy or medication, parental consent is needed. Teenagers can discuss with a psychiatrist first on the next step if parental intervention is needed (the source for this information may be faulty, accuracy is not guaranteed: https://www.5914.com.tw/Questions/40625)


Q: Do antidepressants solve the problem?


A: Under common circumstances, antidepressants aren’t the sole solution to depressive disorders and oftentimes are only used for short-term mitigations. Anti-depressants usually are paired with other forms of treatment such as mental therapy/counseling and changes to daily routine.


Q: What if I can’t access professional therapy?


A: If you don’t have access to professional therapy, school counselors and suicide hotlines are both licensed mental health resources that could jumpstart further conversations.


Q: What’s the difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks?


A: Anxiety attacks and panic attacks oftentimes share similar symptoms such as shortness of breath and increased heart rate. However, anxiety attacks are usually gradual while panic attacks are more sudden and extreme. For instance, panic attacks can cause chest pain, trembling, or depersonalization (Source: https://www.verywellmind.com/anxiety-attacks-versus-panic-attacks-2584396).


Q: What’s the difference between a therapist and a psychiatrist in Taiwan?


A: Therapists (心理諮商師) in Taiwan usually focus more on counseling as they are not licensed to provide prescriptions or diagnoses. Clinical psychologists (臨床心理師) and doctors of the psychiatry department (精神科醫師) are specialized in therapy, medical prescriptions, and diagnosis. (Source: http://www.tch.org.tw)


Resources


"Anxiety disorders", Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961. Accessed 28 February 2021.


"Depression (major depressive disorder), Mayo Clinic, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20356007. Accessed 28 February 2021.


"Depression", WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/what-is-depression#1-2. Accessed 28 February 2021.


Jingsun, Bin. "A Storm of Youth Depression Hits, 20% of the Country's Students Have Seriously Thought About Committing Suicide", CommonWealth Parenting, 24 October 2018, https://www.parenting.com.tw/article/5078313. Accessed 28 February 2021.


"Nearly One in Three Taiwanese Kids Suffer Mental Disorders - Study", International News Lens, 17 July 2017, https://international.thenewslens.com/article/73758. Accessed 28 February 2021.


Schimelpfening, Nancy. "7 Facts Everyone Should Know About Depression", Very Well Mind, 3 August 2020, https://www.verywellmind.com/depression-facts-you-should-know-1067617. Accessed 28 February 2021.


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