Robin Williams' tragic death in August brought new attention to depression and other mental illnesses. The media is showing us how common these illnesses are, especially among teens. But even though this is the case, having a mental illness is often seen as shameful. This means many people try to hide their problems and do not get the help they need.
With the pressures of good grades, finding friends, and an unknown future of career and school, it is natural for teens to feel angst: an overall dread or worry. Sometimes it's just that nagging feeling, with brief moments of panic. Other times though, it can become more serious. We talked to Dr Kate Threlfall, a clinical psychologist, to find out more about depression and angst in teens.
Threlfall believes that teenage angst happens because teens are trying to define themselves as individuals. "Trying to figure out who you are takes a lot of development," she says. "It's not easy, it's not a straight line, and it happens at a time when emotions are developing."
The main difference between teenage angst and depression is how often the person has "highs" and "lows". "Depression and bipolar disorder don't go away when the problem disappears," Threlfall says. "Generally, [people with depression] have more extreme moods that last much longer and are very persistent, whereas angst comes and goes quickly."
Another big difference is that angst is mainly affected by situations. The brain reacts to what's going on around a person, and doesn't stay in a depressed state for long. But depression is affected by brain chemistry, so can't just be "switched off" by changing your circumstances.
Threlfall also points out that many of the problems today's teens face are made worse by social media and cyber bullying, which can fuel angst. This can send someone into a depressive state, especially those who are more prone to depression. "The main differences between brains more prone to depression and those that aren't, are factors like family history," Threlfall says. "Family trees often share similar traits … and sometimes this can include depression."
Also, people who are prone to depression only produce small amounts of the hormone serotonin, which makes it difficult to maintain a balanced mood.
Threlfall suggests teens dealing with angst should find a healthy way of expressing negative emotions, whether it is "through writing in a journal, or practising an art". Developing good hobbies to help process emotions helps a lot.
Good social support is also important, which means opening up to friends, relatives, parents or mentors. Threlfall says techniques like deep breathing or taking the time to work out what caused these emotions, are also very important.
But serious depression doesn't just stop. People often need help from professionals like doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. Remember, you are never alone, so don't suffer in silence.
There are a number of agencies you can contact, such as Samaritans (24-hour hotline number: 2896 0000 or email: email@example.com) and the Suicide Prevention Services (2382 2007). Both are confidential and have people waiting to help you.