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Monday, March 30, 2009

Depression and Teens

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which sets guidelines for doctors on a host of health issues, acknowledges that nearly two million teens are affected by depression and is urging doctors to routinely screen all American teens for this debilitating condition.

Most teens now are undiagnosed and untreated, said the panel in the journal Pediatrics. An estimated 6 percent of U.S. teenagers are clinically depressed. Some research supports that adolescent girls are twice as likely as boys to experience depression. The precise causes of depression are not known, but research on adults with depression generally points to both biological and psychosocial factors.

Here are some of the suspected causes of teen depression:

1. Genetic factors derived from the family and/or depressed parents who create an environment that increases the chances of depression in the children may cause depression.

2. One reason for depression in adolescent girls may be that they are more socially oriented, more dependent on positive social relationships, and more vulnerable to losses of social relationships than are boys.

3. Biological factors such as the functioning of the hypothalamus may affect teen depression.

4. Cognitive factors such as a negative mind set in which one assumes blame for for negative events may influence depression. The mind set in question is known as a pessimistic "attribution bias."

5. Some unique situations such as social rejection, family turmoil, or failing exams could trigger depression.

6. The more television viewing a teen has, the more the likelihood of the development of depression as a young adult.

7. Studies are also looking at the normal process of maturing and stress associated with it, the influence of sex hormones, and independent conflicts with parents as well as reaction to disturbing events such as a breakup with a boyfriend/girlfriend, death of a friend or relative, loss of a parent to death or divorce, physical and sexual child abuse, chronic illness, eating disorders such as bulimia, and poor social skills.

Depression can be a temporary response to many situations and stresses. And, true depression in teens is often difficult to diagnose, because normal adolescents have both up and down moods. Depressive episodes usually respond to treatment, and early and comprehensive treatment of depression in adolescence may prevent further episodes. However, about half of seriously depressed teens are likely to have continued problems with depression as adults.

Depression is a serious mental illness and a major risk factor for suicide. As many as 12 to 25 percent of older children and adolescents experience some form of thoughts about suicide (suicidal ideation) at one time or another. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15 to 24 year olds, and the third leading cause of death in 10 to 14 year olds.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the following:

  • Males are four times more likely to die from suicide than females.
  • Females are more likely to attempt suicide than males.
  • Firearms are used in over half of youth suicides.
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