Study of de­pres­sion in chil­dren re­veals wor­ry­ing find­ings

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

DE­PRES­SION is con­sid­ered an is­sue par­ents watch out for in the tur­bu­lent teenage years. Tele­vi­sion se­ries, full of char­ac­ters with ex­is­ten­tial angst about school, friends and young love, tells us so, as do the books about the ado­les­cent years in ev­ery guid­ance coun­sel­lor’s of­fice.

But what if by that time, it’s too late?

A new study out this week con­tains some alarm­ing data about the state of chil­dren’s men­tal health in the US, find­ing that de­pres­sion in many chil­dren ap­pears to start as early as age 11.

By the time they hit age 17, the anal­y­sis found, 13.6% of boys and a stag­ger­ing 36.1% of girls have been or are de­pressed.

These num­bers are higher than pre­vi­ous es­ti­mates. Un­der­stand­ing the risk of de­pres­sion is im­por­tant be­cause of the close link be­tween de­pres­sive episodes and se­ri­ous is­sues with school, re­la­tion­ships and sui­cide.

Pub­lished in the jour­nal Trans­la­tional Psy­chi­a­try, the study was based on data com­piled from in-per­son in­ter­views with more than 100 000 chil­dren who par­tic­i­pated in the an­nual National Sur­vey of Drug Use and Health from 2009 to 2014.

Among the stan­dard ques­tions asked are ones about sleep, ir­ri­tabil­ity, and feel­ings of guilt or worth­less­ness that re­searchers used to “di­ag­nose” de­pres­sion.

Re­searcher Joshua Bres­lau ex­plained in one of the main the­o­ries about why more adult women than men suf­fered from de­pres­sion, had to do with the teen years.

“The idea was that it was some­thing in par­tic­u­lar, so­cially or bi­o­log­i­cally, that was hap­pen­ing about mid- ado­les­cence in girls that led to this in­crease,” Bres­lau said.

“What we found par­tially con­tra­dicts that.”

The anal­y­sis did find that the gap be­tween boys with de­pres­sion and girls grows be­tween ages 12 and 17 but the sur­prise was that the gap was al­ready large at the age of 12.

The idea that chil­dren can be de­pressed is some­thing that has only been re­cently ac­cepted by psy­chol­o­gists.

As re­cently as the 1980s, ado­les­cents were con­sid­ered too im­ma­ture to be able to ex­pe­ri­ence such a grown-up prob­lem. To­day most sci­en­tists recog­nise that chil­dren as young as 4 or 5 years of age can be de­pressed.

There are many the­o­ries about why boys de­velop dif­fer­ently than girls from a men­tal health per­spec­tive. Other con­di­tions are more com­mon among boys, such as con­duct prob­lems, ag­gres­sion and sub­stance abuse.

The dif­fer­ent ex­pres­sion of un­hap­pi­ness may be be­cause of so­cial in­flu­ences. There’s also the pos­si­bil­ity it may be con­nected to bi­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences, per­haps in­volv­ing changes in hor­mones or other ways that are dis­tinct to how girls are so­cialised.

The find­ings showed chil­dren who have had re­cent de­pres­sion and those who had de­pres­sion a while ago are sim­i­lar in terms of school func­tion and like­li­hood of sui­cide. But not all will go on to de­velop se­ri­ous prob­lems.

Study author Elizabeth Miller said teach­ers and oth­ers who work with chil­dren should learn to recog­nise the signs of child­hood de­pres­sion.

They in­clude ex­tended pe­ri­ods – usu­ally two weeks or longer – of low mood, feel­ing un­able to en­joy nor­mally plea­sur­able ac­tiv­i­ties, in­som­nia, ir­ri­tabil­ity, weight gain or loss, and feel­ings of guilt or worth­less­ness.

“When you are see­ing young peo­ple with symp­toms con­sis­tent with de­pres­sion it is re­ally much, much bet­ter to get them treat­ment sooner rather than later,” she said. – Wash­ing­ton Post

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

Kids can be de­pressed too, new study finds.

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