Diagnosing and Treating Teen Depression


       In our last post, we discussed some of the signs of teenage depression that are often confused with ADHD, such as poor concentration and social –self-esteem problems.

Before we cover today’s topic: Diagnosing and Treating Teen Depression, I’d like to tell you about Gracie. I’m sure you know a kid just like Gracie. There seems to be a 10 year-old Gracie in every school….

Gracie’s mom explained why her teacher thought she was ADHD – Gracie couldn’t focus. She just didn’t pay attention in class and had terrible grades…because she often forgot to do her homework or forgot to bring it in.

Her teacher and mom agreed; Gracie wasn’t impulsive, but got frustrated so often that she would cry and become disruptive “at the drop of a hat”! She had few friends and those who “stuck by her” seemed to avoid her most of the time.

Gracie was treated for ADHD for about six months before I did her evaluation. She just wasn’t getting better on 3 different ADHD drugs. Gracie had been misdiagnosed as ADHD when she was really suffering from depression.

So… how did we make the correct diagnosis?

I discovered what was bothering Gracie, by asking many questions. Here are just a few of the more than 30 clues:


  • Was sad more than happy
  • Cried often for no reason
  • Complained of being tired (check for thyroid disease!)
  • Slept too much

Yes, Gracie was depressed. We never discovered the cause of her depression….that’s not uncommon in kids and teens. It just seems they fall prey to depression for little or no reason.

So, what did we do to help Gracie?

  • First, every depressed person needs to make lifestyle changes such as avoiding drugs, alcohol and risky behaviors… so I asked Gracie’s mom to stop smoking around her and remove all alcohol and guns from the home. Additionally, her mom was to remove all prescription drugs from easy access.
  • Secondly, 98 percent of depressed teens will need medications to replace one deficiency or another, whether thyroid hormone (if thyroid disease exists) or antidepressants.

Childhood and teen depression needs to be dealt with promptly and appropriately to avoid serious consequences such as suicide. As we discussed in a previous post (October 13,2010) teens suffering from depression are more prone to believe “ending it all” is the only way to get out of the situation they perceive as hopeless or “not fixable”.

In my next post, we’ll explore behavioral therapy and the medications used to treat teenage depression in more detail.

Have you had a good or bad experience with a depressed child? If so….please share!

Dr. Frank

P.S. Remember our goal:  “to make the diagnosis and treat depression without confusing it for ADHD!” 

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