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Youth and Depression Management

Prof. Amber Haque for Hyderabad Youth Mirror #

Youth is a time for aspirations, dreams, and fantasies. It is a time when healthy young people are generally carefree and sometimes very confident. They may even be ready to conquer the world! But there are youth who slip into the other extreme, a condition called depression.

Studies in the US show that on any given day about 8% youth suffer from major depression meaning that they need medical attention for their condition and there are 28% who report depressive feelings. We don’t have such statistics for developing countries so it’s hard to predict the percentage of depression among youth in countries like India. If a scientific study is done, one may be surprised at the sheer numbers of youth being depressed or utterly unhappy with their life.

In this short article, we will discuss three questions about depression in the youth:
a)    What are the signs of depression?
b)    What causes depression in the youth?
c)    What are the treatments for depression?

Let’s first differentiate between sadness and depression because sadness is not depression. Sadness in fact, is normal. It’s okay to be sad because of the loss of a close relative or having failed in an important exam. One can cry when sad but the feelings of sadness go away after the tears stop. However, if sadness continues for sometimes, like weeks or months, it may be turning into depression.

The symptoms of depression are having a depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day, loss of interest in almost all activities nearly every day, significant loss of weight or gain in weight, inability to sleep or excessive sleep nearly every day, being restless or tired nearly every day, feeling hopeless or having inappropriate guilt, difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions, and repeated thoughts of death or taking one’s life.  If five or more of these signs are present continuously for at least two weeks, one may be diagnosed as having a major depression.

A milder form of depression is called dysthymic disorder when a person experiences depressed mood and other symptoms that are not severe enough to be called major depression but are present for a longer period of time. A person with dysthymic disorder is able function normally but has a sad demeanor and shows signs of tiredness and lack of concentration.

The causes of depression are many but here are the main ones: biological or hereditary—or as they say, it “runs in the family”; psychological, like repetitive negative thoughts, low self-esteem, a sense of fear and guilt and being unable to cope with such stressors, and environmental, like pressures from school, family, or peer group or when bullied and harassed by others.

This leads us to the third question: is depression treatable? The answer is yes. There are two main ways of treating depression: by psychotherapy or talking cure and pharmacotherapy or medication. Family psycho-education is also an important way to deal with youth depression because family can play an important role in the proper upbringing and molding of children. Treatment depends on the causes and one should leave it to the professionals to determine the actual cause of depression. The good news is that depression results mostly from non-biological causes and can be treated without medication.

Psychologists use Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) to treat depression. CBT is directed primarily towards changing negative thought patterns that contribute to depression and IPT focuses on improving patient’s self-concept and relationships with significant others.

Some parents may get overly concerned about depression in their children and go see the psychiatrist for consultation. Psychiatrists or medical doctors usually prescribe medication. If this happens, one should get a second opinion because medications have side effects and especially those that act on the brain. In the US, Fluoxetine (Prozac) is the only Government approved medication for children 8 and above.

Doctors may give other drugs but the patient or the family should always ask about the risks of taking medication and this should be the last resort. Medication not only brings negative side effects but the patient runs the risk of developing dependence and tolerance leading to higher doses in the long run. Medication becomes necessary only when biological reasons are determined. Studies also show that a combination of medication and psychotherapy will bring better results.

In this “Information Age” the best strategy to overcome problems is to be informed from professional sources. It is even more important in cases related to mental health as untreated depression not only ruins one’s every day functioning and relationships but can lead to risk of suicide. We want our youth to remain happy and healthy because healthy youth make a healthy nation!

(The writer is an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at UAE University in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi.)

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