According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, 11 percent of children ages 13 to 18 are diagnosed with major depressive disorder at some period in their lives, and research indicates the number of children with symptoms of major depression is likely even higher. Recently, several teen suicides have made headlines and raised awareness about the part that bullying among today's youth plays. ' Bullying, abuse and the experience of loss are just a few of the many causes.
Compounding these external factors is research showing that abuse during childhood can alter the structure of the brain in a way that can lead to depression and other mental illnesses later in life.
According to a recent report in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, "Brain scans of adolescents who suffered physical abuse and neglect showed differences in the part that controls executive function ' mental processes such as planning, organizing and focusing on details'Changes were also seen in brain areas that regulate emotions and impulses."
Several studies recently covered by the Center for Advancing Health's Health Behavior News Service reveal that the outward manifestations of depression in teens often go beyond more recognizable symptoms of sadness and lethargy.' For example, a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health showed that in teen girls, overeating and binge eating may accompany depressive symptoms and that these symptoms may in turn promote unhealthy eating behaviors, setting these young women up for a vicious cycle of maladaptive coping. ' Parents and clinicians should be aware of this connection, stress the researchers, and address both problems in treatment.
In another study, kids who ranked higher in behavioral problems such as impulsivity and aggression also tended to contemplate self-harm and suicide at a higher rate than kids without these tendencies. ' Yet, surprisingly, their parents appeared to be unaware of their distress, reporting no more behavioral issues than the parents of kids who didn't contemplate suicide.
With the current state of the U.S. health care system and a tendency for depression to go untreated, preventive measures may be the best insurance against this disease and its associated hardships, according to a new Cochrane review.' The review found that psychological interventions, including cognitive behavioral therapy wherein kids learn to change negative thought processes, do in fact protect against depression in young people for up to a year.