The onset of depression typically occurs around mid to late adolescence. Both biological and developmental factors contribute to the onset of depression. Early intervention can often prevent the development of a severe depressive illness. Adolescence is a time when young people are developing their identity and sense of self. If depression is left to develop, it can lead to isolation from family and friends, risk-taking behaviours such as reckless driving, inappropriate sexual relationships and drug and alcohol misuse or abuse. It can also severely affect the trajectory of the young person’s life by its impact on school performance and study which will affect later career or study options.
What are the signs of Depression in an Adolescent?
It can often be hard to distinguish adolescent turmoil from depressive illness, especially when the young person is developing their autonomy and independence and negotiating new roles in the family. An adolescent may not show very obvious signs of depression or be able to recognise and identify depression themselves. Only 1 in 5 adolescents with depression receive help, while adults often have the ability to seek help adolescents are often dependent on parents or teachers to recognise their distress and start the help-seeking process.
- Changes in sleep patterns, either being unable to sleep (insomnia), sleeping excessively (hypersomnia), or broken sleep
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Poor concentration and memory
- Reduced motivation to carry out usual tasks
- Lowered energy levels
- Varying emotions throughout the day for example, feeling worse in the morning and better as the day progresses
- Reduced pain tolerance, decreased tolerance for minor aches and pains
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Lowered self-esteem (or self-worth)
- Inability to control emotions such as pessimism, anger, guilt, irritability and anxiety
- Reduced capacity to experience pleasure: inability to enjoy what is happening now, not looking forward o anything with pleasure such as hobbies or activities.
If you think your adolescent might be depressed the first step is to seek a medical assessment. If the young person does not want to seek help, it is best to explain your concerns and to provide them with some information to read about depression. It is important for young people to know that depression is a common problem and that there are people who can help. If there is any mention of suicide this should be taken seriously and immediate help sought from your medical practitioner. It is important to assess the severity of the depression. Your General Practitioner can provide you with a Mental Health Care Plan to help you access therapeutic treatment services with allied health clinicians (See Rates & Billing for more information).
For adolescents aged 12 years and over, Attachment Based Family Therapy is an empirically supported treatment which is equally as effective as cognitive behavioural therapy, and has been shown to have a greater effect of treatment over time. It is the only manualized empirically informed family therapy model specifically designed to target family and individual processes associated with adolescent depression. ABFT does not posit that parents cause their adolescent’s depression but views parents as the solution. Adolescent depression can be buffered against by the quality of interpersonal relationships in families. Dr. Ingrid Wagner, has had over 30 years of experience in child and youth mental health and has specialised in family treatments, and has undertaken advanced training in this therapy model. You can arrange an appointment time for an assessment at a time that suits your family.