Being a teenager is supposed to be fun and exciting, but it can also be one of the most stressful times of our lives. It's the time when we lay the foundations of our future. We study hard, and learn to solve everyday problems and acquire social skills that will later allow us to survive in a larger world, take up a job and establish a family. Some find this interesting and challenging, but for others, it means untold pressure and worries.
'I remember being told that high school was supposed to be the happiest years of my life, but it was one of the darkest times in my life. On the outside, I was named Athlete of the Year and Student of the Year a couple of times, but I sure didn't feel like it inside,' an American student says on cure-your-depression.com, revealing how sad and lonely she was until she finally confided in her mother who found her help.
Adolescents in Hong Kong face similar problems. The pressure at home and in school to perform well, peer pressure, loss of friendships and other problems can make young people feel agitated, frustrated or emotional. These are important signs that something is not right. Combined with other symptoms - such as sleeplessness or fatigue, feeling of worthlessness or guilt, sudden weight gain or loss, mood swings and loss of interest in usually enjoyable activities - it can indicate depression. Professional help is needed.
Vivian Siu Ho-yee, clinical psychologist with the Hong Kong Family Welfare Society, says: 'Prevention is very important. Adolescents focus on studying well, but they don't build enough resilience to other types of stress in life.'
As these signs first appear, students should make an effort to talk to their friends or someone older, like their parents, teachers or social workers. They should also take part in activities they enjoy, especially team sports, which will help them make friends, or do volunteer work to increase their self-esteem.
Dr William Lo, consultant psychiatrist and chief of service, Kwai Chung Hospital, says: 'They should share their problems. Simply verbalising them already helps. Remember there are always solutions to problems. Most unhappy feelings are transient.'
But when these feelings continue over a period of time, teenagers should seek help.
Two basic problems teenagers face are a lack of social skills and poor communication. These can partly be due to a problem at home or too much time spent on their computers. Siu says: 'Students' verbal skills regress [if they are on the internet all the time] and they cannot develop a social network and get emotional support from friends.'
She says in Hong Kong, about 17,000 to 20,000 young people - 2 to 5 per cent of adolescents between the ages of 11 and 19 - suffer from severe depression, exhibiting five of the symptoms mentioned earlier in this article for more than a month.
Dr Tang Chun-pan, senior medical official at Kwai Chung Hospital, says: 'Early detection is important. An assessment is nothing to be scared of as it is done by a trained clinician. Only in severe cases will medication be prescribed.' He says teenagers might get a combination of medicines, and dosage would need to be adjusted. But milder cases can be simply taken care of through support from a psychologist or a trained social worker.
The most important is to find someone you trust to talk to. If there is nobody in your immediate circle, visit www. depression.edu.hk/en/home.html and go to Echo Valley to find hotlines you can call to talk to someone about your problems. Information will be kept confidential.