Teen Sadness May Be Depression

ByAndrew Colton

May 2, 2001 -- For most of her 18 years, Zoe has lived in the projects on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and has been through some difficult times.

"My dream," Zoe recalls, "was to walk out of that door and get pushed into the train, or get hit by the bus, or for something bad to happen to me so that I wouldn't have to come home, so that I didn't have to deal with the everyday life.

In Charlotte, N.C., 14-year-old Dyana lives in a large house on a tree-lined street. But the suburban lifestyle and money had not sheltered the teen.

"I'd just stay in a little corner and stay there and just sit there and in the dark and be fine and didn't need anybody," she recalls.

Depression Pushes Teens to Suicide

They may come from two different worlds, but Zoe and Dyana have something in common. They are both recovering from teenage depression. They both have physically harmed themselves. And thanks to new advances in the diagnosis and treatment of teen depression, they are both getting help that is returning control — and happiness — to their lives.

One out of every eight teens suffers from depression, a condition so serious it leads 5,000 teens in the United States to commit suicide each year. But it could be prevented. Many teens never get the help they need, as parents believe their children couldn't be depressed, fear the stigma associated with mental illnesses, or think their child is just be a "typical teenager."

Helping teens through depression is something U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher is hoping to accomplish.

"I want to make it clear that just as things go wrong with the heart, the lungs, the kidneys and the liver in our bodies, even in children, things go wrong with the brain." Dr. Satcher says. "The only question is will the children get the help they need?"

The National Mental Health Association is sponsoring National Childhood Depression Awareness Day on Tuesday to bring attention to this issue.

Meanwhile, researchers continue to investigate new diagnostic methods and treatment approaches for depressed teens.

Computer Program Diagnoses Teen Depression

A new computer program designed by Dr. David Schaffer At New York Psychiatric Hospital in Manhattan is helping doctors, counselors, and teachers diagnose depression. The computer, using a human's voice, asks children and teens a number of questions that can determine if even the happiest child is really having problems. Doctors say children and teens may be more comfortable with the computer than talking to an adult.

It helped doctors help Zoe. Today, she's receiving treatment, is in college, and loves playing outside with her cousin.

"I feel a lot better about myself," she says. "I walk with my head high, get all done up, and be somebody!"

Is Drugs, Talk Therapy or Both Best for Teens?

The ongoing Treatment For Adolescents with Depression Study, sponsored by Duke University and the National Institute of Mental Health, is researching if antidepressant medications, talk therapy or a combination of both are the best for depressed teens. "Talk Therapy" is a form of counseling in which doctors train children and teens about mechanisms to cope with stress and problems, instead of just dealing with a particular problem.

Although the study will take two years to complete, already, Dyana and her parents say combining medicine with talk therapy has made a major difference.

"A week or two ago that sparkle finally came back," Dyana's mother says. "She's made a dramatic turnaround. She's back to our child."

And Dyana knows it.

"They used to call me the weirdo," says the teen. "Now I'm Dyana."

ABCNews Producers Karen Mooney and Karl Zimmerman contributed to this report.

Watch for our two-part series on Teen Depression during the local news on your ABC Station.

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