Major Depressive Disorder Among High School Students: The Reality No One Wants to See

Major Depressive Disorder Among High School Students: The Reality No One Wants to See

By: Will Finley


“You feel so alone, afraid. No one knows, no one asks, no one cares.”

What is Major Depressive Disorder? 

The DSM-5, the primary diagnostic measure for all mental illnesses, describes Major Depressive Disorder as depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities for more than two weeks, as well as a display of impaired function: social, occupational, and or  educational. If a patient displays these characteristics for two weeks or more it is considered a major depressive episode. Depression can completely alter an individual, from their personality to their mannerisms. It is hard enough to live with depression as an adult, but to struggle with and face it every day as a developing child or teenager, like so many high school students do today, can completely fracture a growing mind. As the video above shows, many teens with depression consider or in some cases commit suicide. Unfortunately like many other familes the family of the girl in the video had no idea what was going on inside of her until it was too late. 


Diagnosing Depression:

In order to be diagnosed based off of the DSM-5’s criteria, an individual must display specific symptoms, at least 5 of these 9, present nearly every day:

  • Depressed mood or irritable most of the day, nearly every day, as indicated by either subjective report (e.g., feels sad or empty) or observation made by others (e.g., appears tearful).
  • Decreased interest or pleasure in most activities, most of each day
  • Significant weight change (5%) or change in appetite
  • Change in sleep: Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Change in activity: Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Guilt/worthlessness: Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Concentration: diminished ability to think or concentrate, or more indecisiveness
  • Suicidality: Thoughts of death or suicide, or has suicide plan

Although the DSM had been updated from the 4th to 5th edition between 2o05 and 2014 (DSM-V published in 2013) the diagnostic material for Major Depressive Disorder has remained the same. This means that the cause for the increase in reported depressive episodes is not associated with a new sensitivity to symptoms.



In addition to these alarming statistics, studies show that teens who reported a major depressive episode in the past twelve months jumped from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.5% in 2014. In only nine years the amount of teens who experienced a major depressive episode in the past year increased 37%! Let that sink in. Even with this substantial increase in depression amongst teens, there has not been any significant improvement in support for those who suffer.

A proposed theory as to why depression has risen among teenagers in the past several decades is due to the increase in social media which creates unrealistic standards for young, fragile, susceptible individuals who just want to fit in. People are no longer finding out who they are for themselves, instead they idolize people they have never met before, or would have otherwise never encountered. This often times leads to low self esteem and decreased self worth, cornerstones for so many cases of depression.


Picturing Depression from the Outside:

Many individuals who suffer from depression have a whirlwind of negative thoughts and emotions that strongly influence or control their everyday lives. Though these feelings are overwhelming, annoying and oftentimes frightening it can be extremely challenging for those suffering to reach out for help or to verbalize their emotions. This is especially prevalent in teenagers who may avoid seeking out help due to the fear of being different or worrying that even if the courage to reach out can be built, who will understand them? Thus those with depression can easily spiral farther into their own terrifying self conscious by lying to others and to themselves, saying everything is fine.


My Experience with Depression:

I personally have struggled with depression since I was about ten years old. It was until recently that I truly started taking action in reaching out to try and improve my quality of life, simply because I feared for my own life. I am not the only one. So many people around me, people i am close to, struggle with the varying levels of depression. One of my closest friends has been in and out of mental institutions and rehab for the past four years alone. I know how bad it hurts to feel alone, I know how bad it hurts to see other people you love and care about struggle in a similar way. It is crippling to think that any day you or your best friend could be gone like that. This is why i am creating this project, to give a voice to the voiceless.


Treatment Options/Therapist Interview: 

There is a wide array of treatment options for major depressive disorder, with talk therapy and prescription antidepressants being the most sought after treatments that cannot be self produced. I interviewed Jessi Heneghan a therapist with Atlanta Mindfulness Therapy who specializes in patients with depression and or anxiety, many of her clients being high school age students. She claimed that mental health problems within schools is very important and happens increasingly often. She also tends to see different diagnoses in Private schools that in general public schools which is believed to be the increase in pressure to succeed in high end private schools. Since the start of her career mental health in schools was very isolated, people kept their mental illnesses hid out of fear, but she has found that since then a more collaborative approach has been introduced and is far more effect in assisting with treatment. Treatment also varies greatly among individuals as now two people have the exact same reaction to medication or to other treatment options such as talk therapy. Even with mental illness becoming increasingly open, she finds that individual cases get glossed over by those in positions of power, especially in mental hospitals and you guessed it, schools. No two cases of depression are identical and thus it is imperative that those suffering receive the proper amount of support from their environment, which in the case of teenagers is their high school.


Get Involved!

You may be thinking “Wow this is really interesting and eye opening but what can I do?” Well there’s plenty you can do! Start by being empathetic towards those not only suffering from depression, but towards all mental illnesses among all age groups. It is also important to understand and make sure others understand the prevalence of major depressive disorder in high schools, as well as spread the word of how severe depression can be if those suffering do not have healthy outlets and strong support groups. Empathy and education will help erase the stigma that comes with depression in high schools and thus open up the conversation to all and hopefully spark more support groups for teens that struggle with the illness, especially in their schools where most of their time is spent.



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“Cure Together 83 Depression Treatments.” Cure Together, Accessed 20 Apr. 2018. Infographic.

Depression Statistics. Pinterest, Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.

DSM. “Depression Diagnostic Criteria and Severity Rating.” PSN Palo Alto, 18 May 2013, Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.

“Final Cry: Teenage Depression.” YouTube, uploaded by Fixers UK, 31 July 2015, Accessed 19 Apr. 2018.

I’m Fine. Pinterest,

Schrobsdorff, Susanna. “There’s a Startling Increase in Major Depression among Teens in the U.S.” Time, 16 Nov. 2016. Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.

Stand up to Stigma. Mental Health America of Berks County, Greater Reading Mental Health Alliance, Accessed 20 Apr. 2018.


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  1. April 30, 2018 by Ellery

    Thank you for presenting a difficult topic with clarity and sensitivity. Your project was very powerful. The interview was unique and added more insight. Great job!

    • May 01, 2018 by William.Finley

      Thank you! I wanted to make sure to include the opinions of a professional so I’m glad you liked that aspect!

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