This week ideastream is presenting special multi-media coverage on depression. About one in five teenagers will experience symptoms but it can be difficult to differentiate between what is considered normal changes in teen behavior and what is actual clinical depression. ideastream's Kathryn Baker reports.
BAKER: Sixteen year-old old Preston Yaecker of Chagrin Falls lost his battle with depression on February 25th, 2005. His parents, Pam and Doug Yaecker, remember what their only son was like before his illness became apparent.
PAM YAECKER: He was pretty boisterous and pretty loud and you know a happy kid and laughing and smiling a lot.
BAKER: Preston Yaecker's journey from happy go lucky kid to suicidal sixteen year-old began when he was in eighth grade. He contracted a staph infection so advanced he needed a hip replacement. Preston spent more than a year on crutches and his parents, Pam and Doug Yaecker say he was ridiculed by classmates. Dr. Robert Findling, Director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals Case Medical Center, says a triggering event is not unusual in teenage depression.
FINDLING: For teenagers in particular we know that the first episodes of major depression are often started or stimulated by a stressful life event whether it be the breakup of a boyfriend or girlfriend, medical illness, poor grades, some stressor often times starts knocking over the row of dominoes that ultimately lead to a depressive episode.
BAKER: The National Alliance on Mental Illness says about one in five teens develop the illness. But symptoms are not that unusual for teenagers: feeling tired, irritable, changes in diet or sleep habits. So, how to tell the difference between normal and abnormal?
FINDLING: All teenagers change their interests as they get older but they shouldn't completely socially withdraw or they shouldn't completely pull themselves out of extra curricular activities.
BAKER: Preston's mom has battled depression since her teen years. So when she saw her son her son's grades slip and noticed he wasn't socializing with friends anymore she wondered if he might be going through the same thing. She tried to talk to him about it but he resisted.
YAECKER: You could just see it in his face that he was sadder and sadder and sadder but he would not tell me what the problem was. I mean asked him a million times.
ZAJACK: Being depressed is like being in a black hole.
BAKER: Another teen, Kirk Zajac of Painesville, was only 14 when he first noticed recurring feelings of lethargy and social withdrawal.
ZAJAC: I just put on my happy face for the rest of the world and went out there, did what I had to do and went home and literally sat and did nothing and stooped in my depression.
BAKER: Psychiatrists say most teens who are depressed don't receive the treatment they need because of the stigma or because they don't know how to get treatment. But, Kirk Zajac knew he needed help and asked for it...from his parents. To manage his illness, he sees a psychologist for psycho-therapy every month and is also on medication. This combination, he says, was transformative.
ZAJAC: If I wouldn't have sought treatment I probably would be dead, there's no question to it.
BAKER: Now it's Zajack who is providing help. He visits students in high schools throughout Northeast Ohio as part of a program through the Suicide Prevention Education Alliance. He talks about his experiences. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens and depression is at the center of it. Cleveland Clinic Psychiatrist Dr. Donald Malone also says more awareness about the symptoms and dangers of depression is essential.
MALONE: The adolescent, young adult group has a high likelihood of suicide, much higher than middle age and even later adults.
BAKER: Pam Yaecker has a message for other parents who suspect their child is suffering from depression.
YAECKER: If you heart and your stomach is telling you something is wrong here, you need to listen to that.
BAKER: Kathryn Baker, 90.3.