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Rescuing Your Teenager From Depression

Norman T. Berlinger, M.D., Ph.D.

New York:  Harper Resource, 2005, 304pp., $34.95.

 

            Berlinger’s book is an important contribution to the literature on the topic of teenage depression and how healing occurs faster if parents and physicians become partners in the treatment process. The medical profession has a difficult time determining when a teenager’s mood problem is something much more serious than just being cranky, 

uncooperative or down in the dumps. To make matters worse, physicians admit that at times they find it difficult to diagnose depressed teenagers without the parents assistance. Teenage depression goes unrecognized and untreated in sixty percent of the cases. It is for this reason that physicians and parents must partner to diagnose and treat teen depression. Physicians, on their own, do not usually know a teenager sufficiently enough to fully recognize whether or not (s)he is seriously depressed. Since parents have 24-7 access to the teenager, they are in a better position to help the physician determine whether or not the teenager is depressed.

            Berlinger’s book is not antiseptically clinical; it is humanistic and seeps through and through with the wisdom of a medical doctor who was also a father of a depressed teen. There is page after page of practical advice for parents and their medical practitioners on how to manage a teenager’s depression. Berlinger will be the first to admit that there is nothing more devastating than having a depressed teen in the family. The parents always tend to blame themselves and the structure of the family for the teenager’s depression. However, teenage depression depends on many variables from entering a new school, to starting college, to having too much homework and academic 

pressures. Teenage depression is twice as likely to occur if a family has separated or there is a lot of marital conflict.

            In this book, Berlinger presents ten strategies for proper parental partnering. These strategies were derived from the experiences of parents who had depressed teenagers. In each chapter, Berlinger also shows the reader how to partner with their teen’s physician to get the best and quickest results, and most importantly to prevent a relapse of the depression. This is an optimistic book. It argues that parents must partner with professionals (both physicians and therapists) to closely monitor the health of the teenager. The parent must want to support the teen; however, (s)he must not give the impression of intruding.

            There are ten parental partnering strategies. First, the parents should see through the disguises of teenage depression. Adolescents are confused at best and this is even more the case when they become depressed. Early diagnosis and treatment can make a huge difference in the outlook of the teen. Second, the parents must add up the clues. To 

qualify as depression, the teenager must display one or two of the following symptoms: loss or gain of weight, difficulty sleeping,  slowed movements and thinking, fatigue or loss of energy, diminished ability to think or concentrate; recurrent suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in activities; and depressed or irritable mood. Third, the parents must identify related problems which may be companions to depression. Depressed teens may come down with a second emotional illness, such as generalized anxiety disorder, anorexia nervosa, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Fourth, the parents must be especially alert to suicide risk and practice suicide prevention. This can save a teenager’s life.

            Fifth, the parents must work with their family physician to manage the medications. Depression is a complex disease which is often regarded as a stress-related disorder. For susceptible teenagers, chronic psychosocial stress is usually what triggers the first episode of depression. Without medication, the teenager may develop chronic 

depression for the rest of his/her life. Sixth, the parents should find a therapist who is empathic with the teenager’s predicament.  Seventh, the parent must take a family inventory. This is usually a difficult thing to do and yet necessary since many of the problems that the teenager is facing may be related to a dysfunctional home life. Eight, the parents must bring the talking cure home by spending a lot of time just simply being available to the teenager. Ninth, the parents must look beyond therapy. After the twelve weeks of therapy, the parents must take over at this point to be their mentors and best 

friends. Finally, the parents should consider whether large schools and overcrowded schedules may contribute to their teenager’s depression.

            In conclusion, Berlinger’s book is a wake up call to parents who must recognize the necessity of partnering with their physicians and therapists to ensure that their teenager heals from a depressive episode. Perhaps, a humane way of treating depressed teenagers is for the medical team to recognize the early signs of depression and to 

treat depression as soon as it becomes evident. The physician cannot diagnose depression in teenagers on his/her own without the help of the parents. Thus, depression can best be treated if the physician and parents form a partnership-type relationship at the onset, during, and at the end of the treatment for depression.

 

Irene Sonia Switankowsky, University of Wales, Lampeter