Advice: 'It's Hard for Parents to Understand': In a New Book, Dr. Harold Koplewicz Helps Families Sort out Normal Adolescent Irritability from Real Illness

By Kantrowitz, Barbara | Newsweek, October 7, 2002 | Go to article overview

Advice: 'It's Hard for Parents to Understand': In a New Book, Dr. Harold Koplewicz Helps Families Sort out Normal Adolescent Irritability from Real Illness


Kantrowitz, Barbara, Newsweek


Byline: Barbara Kantrowitz

As the founder and director of the New York University Child Study Center, Dr. Harold Koplewicz has seen firsthand the pain that depression brings to families. His new book, "More Than Moody: Recognizing and Treating Adolescent Depression," describes current therapeutic approaches and new research, which he discusses with NEWSWEEK's Barbara Kantrowitz.

How does depression manifest itself differently in teens and adults?

Depressed teenagers are more reactive to the environment than depressed adults. In addition, they act irritable. In classical depression, you are depressed all--or almost all--of the time. Depressed teens' moods are much more changeable. If an adult male gets depressed and you take him to a party, he is still depressed. In fact, he may depress others at the party. A teenage boy who is depressed and gets taken to a party might brighten, might actually want to have sex. If pursued, he might enjoy himself. But if he goes home alone, he is likely to become very depressed again. These mood changes are very hard for parents to understand.

Most teenagers are moody. When should parents start to worry?

Parents have to know their children. Adolescence is not a good time to introduce yourself. Money should have been put in the bank earlier. Then, during adolescence, it's a continuation of a close relationship. You understand what your child's sleep habits are like, what his energy level is like, what her concentration is like, so you can observe when changes in usual behavior last for a month. Then I would get an evaluation.

What would you tell parents who feel guilty when their children are depressed?

Parents want their children to be happy so much that they feel somehow responsible if their child is not. I would emphasize that depression is a real illness. Depression [is] such a misused term. We're not talking about demoralization, or about being dispirited. We're talking about a real illness that has neurobiological underpinnings and that parents have to take as seriously as diabetes.

Where should parents go for help? Do you think there are enough resources?

There are so many barriers to getting a teenager help. In our nation, it's nothing less than a tragedy that only one out of five teenagers who suffer from depression gets any help. It's even worse if you are a kid from a lower socioeconomic group. The first thing to do would be to go to your pediatrician or your school psychologist who can refer you to a child psychiatrist or a child psychologist. …

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