Depression is an all-consuming nightmare, no matter your age. How it manifests, however, could depend on your life stage.
Signs of this mental health condition, which affects an estimated 350 million people of all ages worldwide, can appear differently when you’re young compared to when you’re older. And according to Michelle Riba, a professor of psychiatry and the associate director of the University of Michigan Depression Center, some of them may not be so obvious.
“Depression is incredibly complex,” Riba told The Huffington Post. “People may not understand a lot of the symptoms. But it’s important to identify and seek professional help for these issues.”
Below are just a few ways the mental health condition affects each age differently.
While depression doesn’t appear as frequently in children as it does in other age groups, it’s not unheard of: Approximately 2 percent of elementary school children have the disorder, according to Riba. Studies show it can even start as early as pre-school in some children.
Parents often misread mental health symptoms in their kids. If a child seems to be more defiant or moody than usual, is having difficulty progressing in school and gets frequent headaches, they might be dealing with depression.
“We tend to think of depression symptoms as sleeping or eating too much or even voicing it, but it’s different with kids,” Riba said.
“Kids may not appear depressed and the symptoms may not show every day. The word ‘depressed’ may not even be in their lexicon.”
Data shows that approximately 11.5 percent of teens have had at least one major depressive episode in a given year, with girls experiencing mental health issues more frequently than boys. Factors like bullying and academic pressure can add to the risk of developing depression around this time.
Experts have been devoting more energy and resources to targeting and treating teen depression, particularly in the digital age.
Research shows that excessive social media use is linked to depressive symptoms. The current tech-focused culture puts teens “in a cauldron of stimulus they can’t get away from, or don’t want to get away from, or don’t know how to get away from,” Janis Whitlock, director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery, told Time magazine last year.
Fortunately, mental health experts are catching up when it comes to developing treatments that work. Services like the Crisis Text Line and organizations like Project UROK make support more accessible for adolescents who are dealing with the complicated nuances of psychological well-being.
Nearly one in four young adults have experienced at least one depressive episode, Riba explains. But for the most part, depression commonly appears around age 25.
The most prevalent symptom for young adults is changes in mood or motivation, Riba says. They can also experience other typical effects like sleep loss, lethargy and tearfulness or anger.
At its worst, depression puts people at a higher risk of dying by suicide. This is extremely consequential for midlife adults: Middle-aged men have seen the highest increase in suicide over the last 15 years, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Like with any age group, there are multifarious reasons why depression may develop, but Riba says middle-aged adults may be more likely to deal with environmental stressors like economic problems or greater social isolation. Treatment, whether it’s through therapy, medication or a combination of both, is the most effective way to manage the disorder.
“Depression shouldn’t be left untreated,” Riba stressed. “When people are in pain or experiencing depression, just like with high blood pressure, they should get that evaluated.”
Riba says it’s not uncommon for a person’s first depressive episode to appear after age 60. In this age group, there’s typically a comorbidity of the mental health condition with other illnesses, such as cancer or diabetes. Depression can also develop due to a loss of a partner, loneliness or general physical decline.
Regardless of age, it’s critical to prioritize psychological well-being, Riba says. That includes talking to a clinician if there are any changes in mood ― especially if it’s been chronic or the symptoms persist.
“There’s no health without mental health,” she explained. “It goes hand-in-hand with all other aspects of health.”