One in five children and adolescents is affected by mental health problems and disorders. Those aged 18-24 have the highest prevalence of mental disorders of any age group.
Key points about depression in adolescence
- Depression in this age group should be taken seriously. Youth suicide is the leading cause of death in this age group.
- It can be hard to distinguish adolescent turmoil from depressive illness, especially as the young person is also forging new roles within the family and struggling with independence, and academic and career decisions.
- Both biological and developmental factors contribute to depression in adolescence. If bipolar disorder or psychosis is suspected biological causes would need to be examined. Read about bipolar disorder.
- In identifying difficulties it can help to consider some of the areas that the adolescent is dealing with: school, family, peer group and intimate and/or sexual relationships and sexuality.
Signs of depression in an adolescent
An adolescent who is depressed may not show obvious signs of depression. Instead, they may start to behave uncharacteristically, for example by:
- becoming socially withdrawn
- falling in their performance at school
- engaging in risk-taking behaviour (for example reckless driving, inappropriate sexual involvements)
- engaging in drug and alcohol abuse
Sometimes a minor physical problem is used as a disguised appeal for help.
Where to get help for an adolescent
If you think your son or daughter, or someone you are close to, might be depressed, the first step is to either take them to a doctor or to the local medical centre. The doctor will either conduct an assessment or refer the adolescent to a child and adolescent psychiatrist or mental health worker.
You could also speak to the guidance officer or counsellor at your child's school.
Sometimes the adolescent may not want to seek help. In this case it's best to explain that you are concerned and perhaps also provide them with some information to read about depression. There are also some excellent websites designed for young people, as well as online and telephone counselling services. It's important for them to know that depression is a common problem and that there are people who can help.
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Last reviewed: January 2018