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adolescent depression

Alternative Names 
teenage depression

Depression is a continuing feeling of sadness, despondency, or hopelessness. The feeling persists and affects daily living. The rate of depression among adolescents may be as high as one in eight.

What is going on in the body? 
Adolescence is a period of transition from childhood to adulthood. Teens have many physical, psychological, emotional, and social changes during this time. The changes can be overwhelming. Depression can interfere with daily activities. School grades can suffer. Teens can lose interest in friends. They may not enjoy activities and hobbies.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition? 
The most common signs of depression in adolescents are:
  • sadness and hopelessness
  • anger and rage
  • missed school or poor school performance
  • changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • problems with authority
  • poor self-esteem or guilt
  • overreaction to criticism
  • headaches
  • drug abuse or addiction
  • thoughts of death or suicide
  • alcohol dependence
What are the causes and risks of the condition? 
Examples of causes and risks of depression in adolescence include:
  • divorce of parents
  • break-up with significant other
  • low self-esteem
  • family history of depression
  • alcohol or drug abuse
  • major trauma
What can be done to prevent the condition? 
Depression can lead to suicide. It is important to recognise and treat the condition early. Teens should be encouraged to talk to someone if they are concerned about depression. This concern can be about themselves or a friend. There are many people who they can talk to including:
  • a psychologist
  • a school counsellor
  • parents or a trusted family member
  • a family doctor
  • a clergy member
  • a professional at a mental health centre
How is the condition diagnosed? 
Adolescents who have symptoms of depression should see a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Diagnosing depression includes psychological and laboratory tests and consultation with other medical specialists.

What are the long-term effects of the condition? 
There is a strong connection between depression and suicide in adolescents. Suicide is the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24 in some states of Australia.

What are the risks to others? 
This is not a contagious condition.

What are the treatments for the condition? 
The two most common ways of treating depression in adolescents are with medications and psychotherapy. Often a combination is used. Occasionally a person must be hospitalised for intense treatment or for his or her own safety. Antidepressant medications can help with symptoms. It may take 2 to 4 weeks before a person feels that the medication is helping. Psychotherapy can help a person understand why they are depressed. It can help the person learn how to handle future stressful situations. Therapists help people look beyond the problem and explore feelings. There must be trust, respect, and confidence between the therapist and the person.

What are the side effects of the treatments? 
Antidepressants may cause mild and usually temporary side effects in some people. The most common side effects are:
  • dry mouth
  • constipation
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • agitation
  • nausea
What happens after treatment for the condition? 
Depression usually responds to treatment with medication and psychotherapy.

How is the condition monitored? 
The monitoring of symptoms and signs is similar to the treatment of all depression. Regular review by the family doctor or mental health professional is necessary. Ongoing education is necessary to ensure compliance. Relapses need to be assessed on their merits. Medication may need to be increased or restarted. The patient should be monitored for at least twelve months after the resolution of all symptoms.

Author: Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 19/02/2005
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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