Depression

Depression in adolescents

Written by Pragya Lodha
Published: September 4, 2021
The Mumbai Program Director & Clinical Psychologist at The MINDS Foundation. Honorary Associate Editor for the Indian Journal of Mental Health with over 100 National and International publications

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Key Points:

  • Depression in this age group should be taken seriously. Youth suicide is the third most common cause of death in this age group.
  • It can be hard to distinguish adolescent turmoil from depressive illness, especially as the young person is also forging new roles within the family and struggling with independence, and academic and career decisions.
  • Both biological and developmental factors contribute to depression in adolescence. If bipolar disorder or psychosis is suspected biological causes would need to be examined. 
  • In tracking down difficulties it can help to consider some of the areas that the adolescent is dealing with: school, family, peer group and intimate and/or sexual relationships.

Depressive illnesses/anxiety may be disguised as, or presented as, eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, drug/alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity, risk-taking behaviour such as reckless driving, unprotected sex, and carelessness when walking across busy streets, on bridges or cliffs. There may be social isolation, running away, constant disobedience, getting into trouble with the law, physical or sexual assaults against others, obnoxious behaviour, failure to care about appearance/hygiene, no sense of self or of values/morals, difficulty cultivating relationships, inability to establish/stick with occupational/educational goals.

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Symptoms:

  • Physical symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, stomach aches, neck aches, arms or legs hurt due to muscle tension, digestive disorders. (ruling out other medical causes)
  • Persistent unhappiness, negativity, irritability.
  • Uncontrollable anger or outbursts of rage.
  • Overly self-critical, unwarranted guilt, low self-esteem.
  • Inability to concentrate, think straight, remember, or make decisions, possibly resulting in refusal to study in school or an inability (due to depression or attention deficit disorder) to do schoolwork.
  • Slowed or hesitant speech or body movements or restlessness (anxiety).
  • Loss of interest in once pleasurable activities.
  • Low energy, chronic fatigue, sluggishness.
  • Change in appetite, noticeable weight loss or weight gain, or abnormal eating patterns.
  • Chronic worry, excessive fear.
  • Preoccupation with death themes in literature, music, drawings, speaking of death repeatedly, fascination with guns/knives.
  • Suicidal thoughts, plans, or attempts.

Signs Of Depression In An Adolescents

An adolescent who is depressed may not show obvious signs of depression. Instead, he or she may start to behave uncharacteristically, by, for example:

  • Becoming socially withdrawn
  • Falling in their performance at school
  • Engaging in risk-taking behaviour (e.g. reckless driving, inappropriate sexual involvements)
  • Engaging in drug and alcohol abuse

Credits:

Author:

Pragya Lodha, MINDS Mumbai Program Director & Psychologist

Acknowledgements:

Ankita Gupta, MINDS Research Associate
Anoushka Thakkar, MINDS Research Associate
Roshni Dadlani, MINDS Communications Lead

References:

  • Cuellar, A. (2015). Preventing and Treating Child Mental Health Problems. The Future of Children, 25(1), 111-134. Retrieved August 11, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/43267765
  • Children’s Mental Health. (2021). Retrieved 4 August 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/basics.html
  • de Girolamo, Giovanni & Dagani, Jessica & Purcell, R & Cocchi, Angelo & Mcgorry, Patrick. (2012). Age of onset of mental disorders and use of mental health services: Needs, opportunities and obstacles. Epidemiology and psychiatric sciences. 21. 47-57. 10.1017/S2045796011000746.
  • Kessler, R. C., Amminger, G. P., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Alonso, J., Lee, S., & Ustün, T. B. (2007). Age of onset of mental disorders: a review of recent literature. Current opinion in psychiatry, 20(4), 359–364. https://doi.org/10.1097/YCO.0b013e32816ebc8c
  • MayoClinic (2021). Retrieved 5 August 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/mental-illness-in-children/art-20046577
  • NIMH » Children and Mental Health: Is This Just a Stage?. (2021). Retrieved 4 August 2021, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/children-and-mental-health
  • Ogundele, M. (2018). Behavioural and emotional disorders in childhood: A brief overview for paediatricians. World Journal Of Clinical Pediatrics, 7(1), 9-26. doi: 10.5409/wjcp.v7.i1.9
  • Tolan, P. H., & Dodge, K. A. (2005). Children’s mental health as a primary care and concern: a system for comprehensive support and service. The American psychologist, 60(6), 601–614. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.60.6.601
  • Waddell, C., McEwan, K., Shepherd, C. A., Offord, D. R., & Hua, J. M. (2005). A public health strategy to improve the mental health of Canadian children. Canadian journal of psychiatry. Revue canadienne de psychiatrie50(4), 226–233. https://doi.org/10.1177/070674370505000406

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