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New York City
July 2002

Depression in Teenagers
By Glenn S. Hirsch, M.D.

Adolescence and the beginning of adulthood is a developmental phase burdened with stressful events: high school, starting college, pursuing career goals, forming relationships with friends and significant others, coping with changing family roles. These stresses can precipitate life-threatening illnesses and behaviors such as depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders and even suicide. Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder often have their onset during this time.

During adolescence there is a rapid increase in the number of youngsters who suffer from depressive illness and have suicidal thoughts. Several studies indicate that up to 8.3 percent of adolescents suffer from depression, 20 percent of Americaís teens have had thoughts about ending their lives and suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens and young adults.

The most important risk factor in teenage suicide is having a psychiatric illness. About half of youngsters who kill themselves have a depressive disorder. Other disorders that place teens at high risk include aggression, behavioral disorders and substance abuse.

While twice as many girls attempt suicide as boys, boys are more than ten times as likely to kill themselves. This difference appears to be mainly due to the method used. Girls tend to overdose with pills which is often less lethal than the use of guns which has been implicated in more than sixty percent of teen suicides.

Since depressive disorders are implicated in the majority of teen suicides, an important pathway to preventing suicide is the identification and treatment of mood disorders. Some of the signs that a teen or young adult is suffering from depression include: persistent sadness, irritability or boredom, complaints that nothing is enjoyable or a decrease in interest in activities or peers, sleep or appetite changes, difficulty concentrating and poor school performance. Youngsters with these symptoms should have a diagnostic evaluation with a mental health professional for possible intervention and treatment. The two treatments that show the most promise include antidepressant medication and specialized psychotherapies. They include cognitive behavioral and interpersonal therapy. (For further information about mental illness and its treatment in children and adolescents see www.AboutOurKids.org.)

The National Institute of Mental Health is currently sponsoring a treatment study of teenagers age 12-17 who are suffering from depression. The NYU Child Study Center is one of the sites in NY. For further information call 212-263-8613.

For some teens and young adults outpatient treatment may not be sufficient or the danger of suicidal behavior may be great. For them hospitalization may be necessary. The Young Adult Program at the New York University Child Study Center was established several years ago to help older teens and young adults whose psychiatric condition requires hospitalization. It is an intensive psychiatric inpatient program, which serves the mental health needs of the often-neglected population of 15 to 24 year-olds. Experts from NYU in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, social work and nursing, draw on leading-edge therapeutic techniques and breakthrough pharmacological research in treating patients. Emphasizing rapid assessment and individualized attention, this team of experts strives to restore balance to a young life in turmoil and help the young adult return to active life. For further information about the program call Dr. Naomi Weinshenker at 212-263-5956.#

Glenn S. Hirsch, M.D. is the Deputy Director of the NYU Child Study Center and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry.

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Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001.
Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919.Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2002.


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