Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Workshop explores teenage depression

In September 2006, Pat Alfredson’s teenage son started having trouble. He skipped school, his grades dropped and he even lost interest in his favorite sport, wrestling.

“He fell off the face of the world last September,” she said. “I’m used to teenage angst. This was different … (he) was literally not himself.”

His mother now characterizes it as a “major” depressive episode, one that took until last May for him to overcome with professional help. She said she became frustrated with the lack of effective help for her son’s condition at Evanston Township High School. That’s why they attended a workshop called “Adolescent Depression: The War Inside” at ETHS Thursday night.

Alfredson was one of about ten participants in the workshop, which was presented by school psychologist Susan Stroh and school psychology intern Erin Murphy.

“Tonight we’re going to get in-depth about how depression looks on the outside and how it feels on the inside,” said Murphy.

The first section focused on symptoms of depression, such as irritability, loss of interest in favorite activities, lack of motivation, disruption of normal sleep patterns and morbid thoughts or behavior. According to Murphy, about 20 percent of teens will exhibit these kinds of symptoms before adulthood.

Murphy conceded that it can be hard to distinguish typical adolescent mood swings from genuine depression.

“We all have bad days, don’t get me wrong,” she said. “Typical teens do have some of these behaviors as well, so it’s when we have multiple manifestations of these that we become concerned.”

Murphy pointed out three specific kinds of depression that parents and teachers should be aware of. The first, “Single-Episode Major Depressive Disorder,” is characterized by two or more weeks of a depressed mood or loss of interest along with secondary symptoms such as diminished energy, weight loss or gain and inability to concentrate. These symptoms distinguish normal teen irritability from the serious long-term depression that impairs a teen’s ability to function.

Dysthymic disorder is more generalized, “more of a constant, just feeling down all the time,” Murphy said. She also briefly discussed bipolar disorder, where a sufferer swings between periods of intense depression and extreme euphoria or irritability.

Though the group did pinpoint stereotypical depressed behavior, such as laziness, disorganization, shyness and substance abuse, Murphy was also quick to note that high achievers aren’t immune to depression.

“I have interacted with people who are top-of-the-class superstars who struggle with major depression,” she said. “It’s across the board.”

The workshop discussed several ways parents and teachers can combat adolescent depression. Consistently encouraging teens to get more exercise, keep a journal or talk about their feelings can help, Murphy said. She also emphasized that extreme depression, such as cutting or suicide threats, require a different kind of support entirely.

“Do not waste any time,” she said. “Even with a teen with multiple suicide threats, suicide should always be taken very seriously.”

As for Alfredson, her son is back on the wrestling team and is doing fine. She said she already knew most of the information she heard at the meeting, but she enjoyed the workshop anyway. Her son’s mental health is still an important concern, she said.

“(He’s) on the mend,” she said, smiling.

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Workshop explores teenage depression