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What Causes Teen Depression?

Last night I was chatting with a 20 year old from England. She has been depressed for many years. Here is part of that chat:

Steve says:
do u think depression is a disease? or more from the environment?

Denise says:
i think its a bit of both

Denise says:
i think some people are naturally more susceptible to depression, and sometimes events bring it out (

Denise says:
so basically, its dormant unless certain environmental factors occur

Steve says:
can i show u something...?

Denise says:

Steve says:

Steve says:
this is a true story

Denise says:
some of that sounds quite familiar

Denise says:
but what about the chemical changes in the brain which accompany depression in some people?

Steve says:
well i can only really speak for myself... when i am depressed and someone listens, hugs me, doesnt judge me, but understands me, and offers to help - in a way i want them to help not just in a way they think is helpful - my depression vanishes quickly. (

Steve says:
thats my actual experience.

Denise says:
i've never actually found a person who understands what i'm like

Steve says:
Steve says:
i was gonna say that im guessing u have probably never experienced that...

Steve says:
...and i can tell u that in my own family i wouldnt either

Denise says:
i've found plenty of people who can relate to some aspects, but nobody who understands the full story


Notes - I would guess that if I asked Denise if she has ever had a family member silently hold her while she cries she would say "No, never". I added the word "silently" because of the value of a silent hug. I have spoken to enough depressed teenagers to know that the chances of them having had anyone in their family just listen to them and give them a hug when they were crying are close to zero. This single bit of information tells us a lot about the level of emotional support in a home. (more)

For me there is no longer any doubt in my mind what is causing depression among teenagers. And there is no doubt in my mind how it could be prevented. I am not saying it will be easy to prevent it. But I am saying that I know how to prevent it.


I think some people are naturally more susceptible...

What I believe is that some children, some babies even, are definitely more sensitive than others. I have asked many pre-school teachers if they agree and they have all said yes. So I would say that first, a sensitive child is more likely to feel emotional pain. The sensitive child therefore needs more emotional support. If he or she habitually does not get it, the child or later, the teen, will be at a high risk of depression. See also my list of characteristics of self-harming teens.



More about what helps me

That was the intial conversation I had. Now I would add a few things. For example, "when someone doesn't try to control me". See this list of "What to do if you want me to talk to you." On that list you see that many things people have done are attempts to control me. They tell me to talk, to look at them, or they pull on my arm or try to turn my head. None of this helps me feel safe to talk to them. I feel safer when I am in control of what is happening to me and of the pace of our commmunication and my opening up.

Another note is that since I left my family, most of the time the people who have been trying to get me to talk to them cared about me, at least to some degree. They were honestly trying to help me. They lacked the skills, not the good intentions. In some cases, they also lacked the patience due to their own emotional neediness. By that I mean that they needed to feel helpful. At a certain point, their need to feel helpful (or appreciated, or in control) sometimes took priority over my needs. So they felt frustrated or impatient or rejected. Sometimes they have walked away from me, leaving me feeling abandoned on top of my other previous emotional pain which I felt before I had difficulty talking. Sometimes they also critcized me for not talking to them, further adding to my suffering.


More about brain chemicals

I believe we can change our own brain chemicals, especially with the help of others. For example, very recently I met someone who I quickly connected with. We hugged, we kissed, we laughed, we held hands. We were very, very happy together. During this time I did not feel depressed at all. With this person I no longer fet alone. I no longer felt discouraged. I no longer felt hopeless and pessimistic. Instead I felt connected, understood, cared about, supported and helped. She was helping me in tangible ways such as doing translation for me here in Bulgaria and she was helping me emotionally by her caring and understanding. I also felt attractive to her, desirable, valued and important.

But when we broke up, I felt depressed to the point of feeling mildly suicidal. My brain was probably damaged from repeated traumas of many types, but I can confirm that when I receive emotional support and my emotional needs are being met, there is no problem with depression. So my conclusion is that yes, some children are more senstive, and thus susceptible to depression later in life (just like some people are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol), but that with adequate emotional support, depression can be avoided. Also, if depression does occur, it can be best "treated" with emotional support. One problem I see with traditional psychology and psychiatry are the beliefs about hugs. Most people who receive training in these areas are told that it is unethical or at least "inappropriate" or unprofessional to hug a "patient". There may be good reasons for this... but... what I would say is that they should then help the client or patient find someone who can give them healthy hugs. I'd guess that non-.romantic hugs are the best when a person is depressed because if romance (and sex) get involved then the feelings are magnified. So a feeling of rejection, for example, will hurt much more. Although romantic love is probably the best "cure" for depression, it is also dangerous if things don't keep going well. I guess I would say the best combination is an emotional support group of friends and also a romantic partner. But relying on just a romantic partner is definitely very risky.

By the way, I also believe that children with high innate emotional intelligence have a bigger need for understanding things. Therefore if their environment does not make sense, it cause them more pain.



One of my lasting contributions to the field of mental health and the prevention of teen depression and teen suicide might be my ability to ask the right questions. By the right questions I mean questions which give a lot of information. Of all the questions I ask teenagers, the question "Does anyone hug you when you cry?" is probably the single most useful question to ask. Sadly, I suspect that they do not teach this in most psychology or psychiatry courses around the world. Or if it is taught, it gets lost somewhere along the way. I would like to change this. My ambitions are big. I would like to change society around the world. I would like to change the way we teach young people and the way we help them when they are in emotional pain. If you would like to help me, please see this list of things volunteers can do.




Some other questions would be "How much do you feel understood (accepted, trusted, respected, etc) by your mother (father) from 0 to 10? See list of emotional needs. I also believe my "mom test" can make a big contribution to the the prevention of teen depresssion, self harm and suicide.

More about my family...

My father was a good intentioned person, but we could say he was emotionally absent. He worked till about 6 pm Monday to Friday. He supported the family financially. It would be fair to say he sacrified his life for the family. He was raised as a Catholic and died still calling himself a Catholic. His funeral service was held in a Catholic church. So he was taught to believe in the concept of sacrifice.

My mother would provoke him until the point he got angry, then she would use that as evidence he had a "horrible temper". My mother was very insecure. She was a master at denial and invalidation. She felt defensive very easily and could easily go on the offensive with her verbal attacks. She was very skilled in the use of spoken and non-verbal language, including facial gestures and body language to communicate her feelings. But she was not emotionally literate or emotionally aware.

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