Teen Depression: Ignore It and It May Never Go Away
Of the 274 formerly depressed patients, only about 30% said they were free of psychiatric disorders, while about 45% said they had had at least one recurrence of depression. According to Gotlib, the risk of having had a depressive episode at age 24 for people who did not have depression as teens is 18%.
The authors also analyzed a host of factors to try to determine what contributes to an increased risk of having depression return.
"As you might expect, we found having multiple episodes during adolescence increased risk," Gotlib says. Other things that increased the risk were having a family member with recurrent major depression, being female, having some antisocial or abnormal personality characteristics, emotional dependency, and family conflict.
"Conflict with parents is not uncommon in families in which there's a depressed parent or adolescent. This is not the mopiness or withdrawal that we think about when we think about depression. It's often irritability, anger, and conflict on the part of the adolescent and/or the parent," Gotlib says. He urges parents to recognize their own psychological limitations and to be aware that their personal histories may make their children more vulnerable to depression.
Gotlib says that depressed teens who may have some of the risk factors for recurrence should be seen by a doctor every six months or so to make sure things are going OK.
Findling adds that parents should find a mental health professional who is proficient in caring for depressed adolescents. "We're fortunate in Cleveland to have a center of experts in pediatric mood disorders," he says. "But every community is different. Even if there is no specific program available, your doctor can probably tell you who is good at seeing young people with depression within your community."
Almost half of the group of formerly depressed teens developed another type of problem, such as substance abuse or anxiety, between the time they were 19 and 23 years old.
Preventing new problems is another reason to treat depression early, the doctors say. "The earlier the disorder is caught, the less malignant it is, like any disorder in medicine," Findling says. "Because a disturbance in mood can affect a youngster's ... social, academic, and [family] functioning ... we know the longer we let the disorder go on, the more the 'tumor' grows. I wish I had a dime for every parent who said, 'I wish we had done this [gone for treatment] sooner.'"