Treat Teen Depression With These 5 Helpful Activities

Treatment of teenage depression with charity
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Researchers may have found a new teen depression treatment – altruism.

According to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, teenagers who are more likely to gain pleasure from performing tasks that help others are less likely to be depressed than teens who gain pleasure from selfish tasks.

Adriana Galvan of the University of California and her colleagues asked 39 teenagers to complete a questionnaire that measured depressive symptoms. The teens then performed two tasks while undergoing an fMRI scan so the researchers could examine activity in the ventral striatum, the part of the brain associated with feelings of pleasure. In the first task, the teens played a game in which they had to choose between earning money for themselves or for their families. In the second, they received rewards based on how they inflated a virtual balloon.

The teens retook the questionnaire a year later, and the researchers found that the teens whose ventral striatum activity was high when they chose to earn money for their families tended to experience a decrease in depressive symptoms. The teens whose ventral striatum activity was high when they decided to help themselves or took a large risk tended to become depressed over the year.

Recognizing depression in teens

As a parent, it is important to be able to distinguish whether your teen is just being moody or if he or she is experiencing symptoms of depression. If the symptoms below last for at least two weeks, your teen may be depressed.

• Changes in appetite, as well as significant weight loss or gain
• Loss of interest in activities he or she used to enjoy
• Irritability and belief that life has no meaning
• Overly sensitive to rejection, critical of themselves
• Poor performance in school
• Sleeping too much or too little, trouble waking up in the morning
• Loss of energy, social withdrawal
• Inability to concentrate
• Memory loss

If you suspect your teen may be depressed, consult a mental health professional. Untreated depression increases the chances of risky behavior such as alcohol or drug addiction. It should be noted that teen depression is more common in adolescents who have a family history of depression.

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Encouraging selflessness in teens

There are a couple of ways your teen can perform selfless acts. If he or she does well in a certain subject, tutoring may be a viable option. Your teen may also want to consider volunteering at a non-profit, or helping raise money for charity. Your teen may also be more likely to engage in selfless behavior if friends are involved -- according to DoSomething.org, 70 percent of teenagers who had friends who volunteered were likely to volunteer as well.

Suggested activities

Here are just a few activities that will encourage selflessness in your teen.

Car wash -- There's a reason car washes are ubiquitous in teen movies and shows. This classic activity is often used as a fundraiser for new uniforms, equipment, and other extracurricular or school-related expenses.

Bake sale -- Similar to car washes, bake sales are a popular form of fundraising. As an added bonus, you can eat whatever is left over.

Build houses -- Organizations such as AmeriCorps and Habitat for Humanity help provide housing to families in need.

Food drive -- Food drives can be done at a local food bank or through a school or community center. The food collected is then distributed to soup kitchens, homeless shelters, victims of disasters, and other persons in need.

General labor -- Depending on the season, your teen could shovel snow, rake leaves, or be a dog walker. They may want to advertise their services by posting a flyer on a community message board or by word of mouth.

[Photo credit: John Hrtiz / Flickr]

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