Teen depression and anxiety: Treatment works

Depression, anxiety and other mood and affective disorders impact many youth in our society.  Unfortunately however, these issues often go untreated. Teen depression is a serious mental health issue that causes feelings of sadness, loss of interest in activities and lack of motivation.  It influences how teens think, feel and behave and it can cause emotional, functional and physical problems.  Mood disorders occur at any time in life, but often symptoms are different between teens and adults.  At Family Bootcamp, our counselors help parents and teens learn to manage depression, anxiety and other mood disorders so that these issues don't become life-long, chronic problems.

Teen Issues such as school demands, peer pressure, puberty and self-image can bring a lot of ups and downs for teens.  For some youth, the lows are more than just fleeting feelings — they are a manifestation of a mood disorder such as depression.

Teen depression often requires treatment such as medication and psychological counseling.

Signs of depression can include:

-Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason

-Irritability, frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters

-Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities

-Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends

-Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism

-Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance

-Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things

-Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak

-Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide

-Tiredness and loss of energy

-Insomnia or sleeping too much

-Changes in appetite, such as decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain

-Use of alcohol or drugs

-Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still

-Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements

-Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches

-Poor school performance or frequent absences from school

-Neglected appearance — such as mismatched clothes and unkempt hair

-Disruptive or risky behavior

-Self-harm, such as cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing

It can be difficult to tell the difference between ups and downs that are just part of being a teenager and teen depression.  At Family Bootcamp, we can help parents to assess depression and help facilitate communication about the issues between the teen and his/her parents.

What is “self-harm”? What is “cutting”? What is “self-mutilation”? What is “self-injury”?

The terms self-harm, cutting, and self-mutilation are all terms used to describe behavior wherein a person copes with extreme feelings of distress through intentional infliction of a physical injury upon their own body.  Self-harm behavior was once considered an unfulfilled suicide attempt.  A more recent attempt at understanding self-harm placed these behaviors in the same group as addictive behaviors.  Both of these perspectives may describe the observable acts of self-harm, but fail to explain the actual phenomenon.  Self-harm behavior is not attention seeking, is not a result of suicidal ideation, and is not the same as a drug or alcohol addiction. 

            Armando Favazza (2011) has spent more than 20 years working to make sense of this group of puzzling behaviors over time and across specific cultural groups, including teens.  Non-suicidal self injury most commonly involves minor cutting and burning behaviors.  Favazza is successful in thinking “outside the box” and presenting self-harm behaviors as more than symptoms of a specific mental illness.  These behaviors can occur within any population including teens.  This group of deliberate acts may indicate the need for positive or negative reinforcement, a low ability to tolerate distress, ineffective coping skills, and personal expectations (Favazza, 2011).

            In short, self-harm, cutting, self-mutilation, and self-injury are “morbid” forms of self-help (Favazza, 2011).  These behaviors provide temporary relief from painful feelings of distress like anxiety, feelings of being detached from one’s own body or emotions, and desperation (Nock & Prinstein, 2004).  Although alarming for those who do not engage in self-harm, Favazza (2011) describes persons who are able to control self-harm behaviors as courageous and disciplined.  The majority; however, are the others who are unable to control self-harm behaviors.  These people often experience unwanted, serious consequences like unsightly scarring and permanent physical loss.  Favazza (2011) believes that self-harm behaviors, rather than attention seeking, indicators of suicidal ideation, or addictive, demonstrate a strong will to live.  Effective treatment approaches offer more effective coping strategies for depression, anxiety, and mood disorders without the potentially high price tags.  The possibility of assisting these loved ones instills hope.


Favazza, A. (2011). Bodies under seige. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Nock, M. K. & Prinstein, M. J. (2004). A functional approach to the assessment of self-mutilative behavior. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72(5), 885-890.

Check back for parts 2 through 5 on this blog series

II. Symptoms of Self-Harm

            What does it look like when my loved one is engaging in self-harm behaviors?

III. Why Do Some Adults and Teens Choose to Self-Harm?

            How can I understand self-harm behavior?

IV. What Can I Do when My Loved One Engages in Self-Harm Behavior?

            What professional help is available for those who self-harm and those who love them?

            How can I find an intensive outpatient treatment program for self-harm?

V. Coping with Self-Harm Behavior and Moving On

            How can I find hope and healing?