Study of depression in children reveals worrying findings
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
Kids can be depressed too, new study finds.