Listen to this scenario and see if it sounds familiar: some people are really annoying. Other people just don’t mind their own business. Why is that person staring at me? Why won’t my friend text me back? Why can’t I get this phone, this app, this car to work? Everything is always breaking! Nothing goes my way.
Some days are just rough, and sometimes things just don’t work out. But adolescents who have depression can feel like this every day. And they can’t figure out why.
This situation is a mood called irritability. And it can be a major part of adolescent depression. Sometimes irritability makes depression hard to identify in adolescents, who get nasty labels attached to them all the time, like “angry,” “uncooperative,” “insubordinate,” “impolite,” “antisocial.” But underneath it all is this feeling of irritability that they can’t shake off. And they don’t understand why it’s so persistent.
The things we look for in depression in adults are different from what we look for in adolescents. To diagnose a major depressive episode in an adult, there need to be symptoms which make the adult not function well and are not present because of substance use or another medical problem.
The adult’s experience needs to fit these criteria:
- have symptoms for a two-week period
- these symptoms are a change from how the adult was functioning before
- have at least five of these symptoms:
- a depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
- losing interest in activities
- change in appetite
- change in sleep
- feeling a slowing-down or agitation in the body
- feeling a lack of energy
- feeling worthless
- trouble concentrating or making decisions
- thinking about ending one’s life
For an adult to have depression, one of the symptoms they have to have is either a depressed mood or a loss of interest in life.
But if you are an adolescent, you can have depression if your mood is depressed—or irritable.
Irritable depression can be hard to diagnose, but it is still depression, and the treatments that help with depressed mood can also help with irritability. To get to the right help, it’s important to make the right diagnosis and to take your symptoms and experiences seriously and not just attribute them to “being an adolescent.”
Feeling irritable all the time is no fun, but it’s treatable! It’s important to know that you’re not just doomed to be a Scrooge for life.
Have you dealt with irritable depression? If you had treatment, did it help your irritability?