Whenever we hear of extreme bullying that involved children or teens, we are outraged and rightfully so. As teen suicide rates are reaching alarming highs, this sensitive issue hits a collective nerve. But does bullying actually cause depression?
What Causes Teen Depression and Anxiety?
In truth, there is still a lot we don’t know about depression because there is still a lot we don’t know about how the brain works. On the plus side, we have some smart scientists who are working to figure it all out. Researchers at the Douglas Institute Research Centre have isolated a gene called DCC that may be linked to teenage brain health or vulnerability.
This gene is linked to the dopamine network in the prefrontal cortex. Dopamine is one of the brain’s feel-good chemicals.
Scientists have learned that the DCC gene can be altered by experiences in the teenage years, and this can have an impact on dopamine. Again, they aren’t sure what modifies this gene, but experience is the current best guess. By focusing on a teen’s life experience, we may be able to keep the DCC gene from being expressed to reduce dopamine. Higher DCC expression equals less dopamine, more cortisol and a greater risk of depression.
The end game is to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) and increase the natural production of dopamine through positive experiences. Drugs can also increase dopamine, and that’s exactly the kind of teenage behavior we are trying to avoid. Depression and anxiety can lead to substance abuse, and we know that experimenting is common in the teenage years. This is a vital time.
It’s virtually impossible to shape every experience your teenager has, but here are a few tips that may help sway her experiences towards the positive (if only a little):
- Start early: If you have children who are approaching teenage years, this is a great time to get involved. Having an active support network can really help your child overcome any negative experiences he or she may have. Get your teen involved in sports, dance, theater or any group activity where she can build a social network. It may be more difficult to get your teen involved in these activities when you start later, but it’s never too late to try.
- Take some pressure off: Stresses from school can have more of an impact on some teens than others. If you think your teen is stressing about grades or homework, ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Maybe you can help with homework or hire a tutor. School stress in itself may or may not fuel depression, but it can certainly be a contributing factor. Let your child know that you are there to help. And this is a good time to evaluate your own behavior. If you are adding stress to an already frazzled teenager, it may be time to step back a bit.
- Encourage relaxation: As adults, we know the importance of unplugging and taking time to relax (whether we do or not it is another story), but teens are not likely to take time to relax. Let your child know that this is a priority. Book a spa day, get matching ZENBands or take a yoga class together. These things should help bond you while keeping your teenager’s cortisol levels down.
Preventing depression and anxiety falls under the category of easier-said-than-done, but it’s better to take steps to prevent dangerous behavior than to leave it up to chance. At the least, you may find an opportunity to get more involved in your child’s life and that’s never a bad thing.
Trevor is a freelance writer and recovering addict & alcoholic whose been clean and sober for over 5 years. Since his recovery began he has enjoyed using his talent for words to help spread treatment resources and addiction awareness. In his free time, you can find him working with recovering addicts or outside enjoying about any type of fitness activity imaginable.