What Is The Link Between Teen Depression and Physical Health?

People are more than their physical body. Inside each person resides an intangible, mental personality. The dualistic nature of humans is a key concept since people are a dynamic interplay of their inner and outer being with the mind affecting the body and vice versa. How we feel mentally can impact our health and our physical health can aid or harm our emotional/mental wellness. According to a Canadian study, damage to a teen’s emotional well-being can affect his or her physical health for years to come. Depression is a psychological condition which affects a significant number of people, including teenagers. It’s characterized by moodiness, crying, feelings of disinterest, lethargy, sleep impairment and hopelessness. It can stem from a single traumatic life event or from a pattern of negative thoughts. Sometimes depression occurs as a result of a chemical/hormone imbalance. Whenever it strikes it deeply affects not only the person’s mental state but their physical health as well. A research team at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, followed 147 girls ages 15 to 19 years who had been assessed as at risk for depression based on their family history and attitudes regarding depression. The girls met with a researcher every six months for up to three years. The researchers took each girl’s blood pressure and talked with them about their social life. What they discovered was a direct correlation between social struggle and heightened immune response. Girls who had been overtly rejected were found to have inflammation, the body’s standard immune response. Girls who were blatantly rejected (e.g. being bullied) faced short-term and long-term physical harm. It has long been surmised that painful life situations such as being rejected can lead to long-term health concerns. Other studies demonstrate that being singled out for rejection speeds up the onset of depression even when compared to other depressed subjects. The University of British Columbia study is unique in connecting focused rejection in adolescence with a damaged immune response in adulthood. The study highlights the role socialization plays in immune response to illness in the near as well as more distant future. In the short-term, a depressed immune response leaves a teen more vulnerable to colds and flu and can slow down their recovery time from injury. Long-term, an inhibited immune response is related to serious illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and even some forms of cancer. Teens, like the rest of us, are a complex mix of mind and body. This means that thoughts and emotion can affect physical well-being. If a teen has been hurt by being rejected there are a few things concerned parents can do to help:

1. Talk with Them About Depression

Discuss depression with your teen. Let them know that adolescence is tumultuous for everyone and that their negative feelings won’t last forever. Don’t try talking them out of their feelings. Instead, acknowledge their emotions as normal.

2. Try and Build Some Laughter into Each Day

The simple act of smiling triggers the release of ‘happy’ hormones known as endorphins.  Laughter really does do good like a medicine (Proverbs 17:22). Tell jokes, watch funny movies or television shows together.

3. Get Outside and Eat Well

Some people are in particular need of daylight. Vitamin D levels may be low when too much time is spent indoors or during darker winter months. Help your teen get outside for some sunshine. A healthy diet can also improve mood because it feeds the brain. Some suggest eating things like bananas which result in the release of dopamine, the ‘feel good’ chemical.

4. Exercise

The brain is a muscle. Like other muscles it benefits from a healthy diet, but also from exercise. Studies have shown that the brain receives a glycogen boost following exercise which can make a person feel more alert and even score better on IQ tests. A well-performing brain will help lift a person’s mood. When a teenager has experienced the pain of rejection, it takes a toll on their body. Helping them quickly work through painful feelings can not only have a positive effect on mental health but can prevent longer lasting physical illness as well.

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