Adolescent depression; More than just teenage angst.

mark rackley psychologist putney

Depression in adults is well established and publicised. However, depression is not just an illness that affects adults; young people are also vulnerable to suffering with depression and living with this difficult illness. As adolescence is a major transitional stage in human development and brings with it all the associated physical, psychological and emotional changes, adolescent depression can sometimes be overlooked and reduced down to just being ‘a moody teenager’ and therefore goes undiagnosed. 

According to the mental health charity ‘Young Minds’, rates of depression and anxiety among teenagers in the UK have increased by 70% in the past 25 years, particularly since the mid 1980’s. The proportion of 15/16 year old’s reporting that they frequently feel anxious or depressed has doubled in the last 30 years, from 1 in 30 to 2 in 30 for boys and 1 in 10 to 2 in ten for girls. It is estimated that 1.4% or about 62,000 aged 11-16 year-old’s in the UK are seriously depressed. As an adolescent psychologist, I can testify to the reality of teenage depression and that it is a serious condition that some young people struggle with.

Adolescent depression is more than just ‘a grumpy teenager’ who seems to have mood swings, sleeps a lot and reduces interaction with their family. Adolescents just like adults feel unhappy at times and different reasons cause this. Signs of adolescent depression include changes in both thinking and behaviour and are present for more than 2 weeks on a daily basis. These include depressed or irritable mood, loss of interest or pleasure, changes in appetite (eating more or less) insomnia or sleeping more, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, diminished ability to concentrate or make decisions and thoughts of death or suicide. If you notice these symptoms present for at least 2 weeks, don’t ignore them and address these with the young person and make contact with your GP.
One of the specific factors that can be at play in adolescent depression is bullying. According to figures, 55% of children who have been bullied later developed depression as adults. Bullying in adolescence leaves the young person vulnerable to not only experiencing depression in adolescence, but that this also lingers into adulthood. This links in with the evidence that 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24. Bullying can have lasting effects that last long after the young person has moved out of adolescence and can follow them into adulthood. This argues the case for early intervention in adolescence to help the young person who maybe vulnerable to depression receive treatment to help protect them from depression in adulthood. 

Treatment for adolescent depression is effective and successful. This may include antidepressant medication or a form of talking therapy or a combination of both. Interpersonal Therapy for Adolescents (IPT-A) is a well-researched and effective psychological treatment for depression in young people. IPT-A is based on empirical research that stress, life events and social impairment are associated with the onset and clinical course of depression. It helps to reduce depressive symptoms in young people and address interpersonal problems associated with the onset of depression. The goal of IPT-A is to decrease depressive symptoms and improve interpersonal functioning by enhancing communication skills in significant relationships.

For the young person, having someone they can talk to (a family member, friend, teacher or family friend) is important so they can talk through problems they maybe having and feel supported. If the young person feels respected, valued and cared for by their caregivers and those around them, this is helpful in protecting them from depression and giving them the support they need. Social isolation and feeling unsupported can leave the young person vulnerable to becoming depressed, just as it is in adults. Early detection and treatment of depression in young people can help them enjoy their adolescence and serve to protect them from mental health difficulties in the future.

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