In previous generations, teenage depression was written off as a side-effect of puberty. Today we know better. While the hormonal and physiological changes adolescents go through often cause mood swings and irritability, they are far from debilitating. Nearly seventeen percent of adolescents experience depression. Adolescent depression is different. Instead of lashing out at parents or brooding over social tiffs, afflicted teenagers can see their development arrested with poor grades unreflective of their ability level, lethargy contributing to poor attendance, and social isolation.
The Need to Achieve
There are countless stories of bright, ambitious adolescents who worked hard to pave their way towards the future they saw for themselves. Too many of these stories are interrupted by adolescent depression. A teenage boy graduated at the top of his class. He had excelled in high school, held office in the student government body, often volunteered in his community, had excellent ACT scores, and had been a leader on his basketball team. He didn’t hesitate. He had big dreams and left for college the following semester.
Bright, curious, and driven, he took up a job to cut down on student debt and ease his parents’ financial burden, entered his school’s student government, and was learning to relish the new freedoms in his life away from home. He was well-liked and invited to many parties where underage drinking was common.
Eventually, he found himself drinking a lot more than studying, and soon, his grades started to slip. He withdrew from his extracurricular activities, and his self-worth waned. Seeing no way out and feeling like a failure despite all he had achieved, this young man began contemplating suicide. He was able to shake it off for a while but, within months, found himself nearly incapable of getting out of bed. Luckily, his parents noticed a change in him over the phone and pushed him to seek help.
He was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. What to do about it was another issue entirely. Antidepressants didn’t work. Therapy offered very little relief, and even that faded within a day of each session. This promising young man was forced to take a leave of absence while he and his family puzzled over how to return him to the outgoing and driven person he had once been.
For many like him, ketamine is an often-overlooked treatment option for those struggling with depression.
The Blues or Adolescent Depression
Adolescent depression can completely disrupt a young person’s normal social, cognitive, and academic development. It can skew their perspective on the world so that it no longer seems like a place worth participating in.
Before twenty-five, the prefrontal cortex is still forming. This is the part of the brain that is responsible for executive functions like planning, reasoning, decision-making, and higher-level cognition. It’s vital for holding the reigns on impulses and regulating one’s emotional state, as well as understanding the emotions of others.
This unformed brain region can make depression in teens and young adults especially dangerous. They are less likely to think through the consequences of their actions, more likely to be highly emotion-driven, and struggle to understand where the people around them are coming from. When depression enters a vulnerable young mind, it can be especially difficult for them to manage.
For this very reason, swift and effective treatment is paramount. While antidepressants take weeks to take effect and may not provide relief at all, ketamine has a profound success rate in relieving depressive symptoms. While there are not yet significant long-term studies on the effects of repeated ketamine treatments on the adolescent mind, the teenagers and young adults that get their lives back speak for themselves.
Roughly forty percent of teenagers find no relief from depression during their first attempt to receive traditional treatments. Roughly half of those find a successful treatment option after that. Each failed attempt can compound a depressed adolescent’s bleak outlook as hope seems further and further away.
This is what makes ketamine such a valuable option. Scientific research has highlighted ketamine’s unique ability to treat depression and other mood disorders. There is still much to be understood about how exactly ketamine works on the brain. Scientists tend to focus on ketamine’s effect on glutamate, a neurotransmitter associated with memory, learning, and mood regulation found throughout the central nervous system.
Ketamine has an excitatory effect on glutamate. The heightened glutamate activity allows new pathways to form. These new formations correlate with reduced stress, an increased ability to process information, and improved mood regulation.
In fact, the positive effects of many antidepressants may be a result of regulating glutamate, although less directly than ketamine. Because of this indirect process, SSRIs and tricyclic antidepressants often take weeks to start improving symptoms of depression, if they do at all. Ketamine often produces results and relief from depression symptoms during the first session.
This means that teens and young adults can see the light at the end of the tunnel sooner. Contact us today to learn more about how ShaMynds can help.