Globe and Mail

Depression rampant in teens, study finds

Globe and Mail Update
Wednesday, December 18 – Online Edition, Posted at 1:22 PM EST
The Globe and Mail

Depression is rampant in teenagers, but very few receive any treatment for its symptoms and nearly half believe they are worse off than their peers, a new study says.

Researchers at the New York University Child Study Center (NYUCSC) conducted Internet interviews with more than 400 teens earlier this month, finding that nearly half of teenage girls and more than one-quarter of teenage boys had been depressed for at least two weeks at a stretch. Fully 90 per cent overall had experienced "feelings of depression or sadness."

In line with an earlier report from the U.S. Surgeon-General, the researchers also found that only 20 per cent of depressed adolescents had received psychiatric treatment.

"We know that teens that suffer from depression and do not receive treatment are at higher risk for abusing substances and engaging in risky behaviour," said Dr. Harold Koplewicz, director of the NYUCSC and the author of a book on adolescent depression.

Researchers also found that, like most people, the holidays are a particularly trying time for depressed youth.

"Not only are depressed teens more at risk throughout the year," Dr. Kaplewicz said, "this risk increases during the holiday season. Depressed teenagers are more sensitive to the environment than depressed adults, therefore parents must be more alert during the holiday season for signs and symptoms of depression in their adolescents."

Teenage depression whose symptoms include irritation, changes in sleeping or eating habits, difficulty concentrating and social or academic decline can lead to "risky behaviours," Dr. Koplewicz warned.

These proclivities were found to be especially pronounced among depressed teenage girls, who were found to be 21 per cent more likely to drink, 41 per cent more likely to take drugs and 52 per cent more likely to engage in sex then their non-depressed peers. The incidence goes up in December, with four in 10 depressed girls say they are more likely to drink during the holiday season.

The study of 193 boys and 236 girls was conducted between Dec. 3 and 6, 2002. Researchers say the results can be considered accurate to within +/- 4.7 per cent. The margin of error within subgroups would be larger, they conceded, but it was not specified.

Copyright © 2002 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc.