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Teenage depression or ‘growing pains’?

Excessive stress can lead to teenage depression (Thinkstock photo)Excessive stress can lead to teenage depression (Thinkstock photo)

Not unlike adults, teenagers in Singapore are under a lot of pressure. Going through the hormonal changes of puberty, they need to deal with peer group influences, major exams and transition to more adult social roles.

Parents need to be aware that these demands can be overwhelming and precipitate depression in teenagers.

"Referral rates for psychiatric help in young persons with depression seem to be increasing over the years," says Associate Professor Leslie Lim, senior consultant at the Department of Psychiatry, Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

Lim adds that over 5 per cent of Singaporeans could be suffering from depression in their lifetime, and this condition is triggered by life events, and may involve biochemical changes in the brain.

Early warning signs of depression

Here are some warning signs that could indicate your teen is depressed:

  • Social withdrawal,  poor sleep and loss of appetite
  • Drop in energy levels or lack of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed
  • School results start to fall, or a teacher mentions that the child now has conduct  problems in class
  • Recurring bodily complaints, such as headaches and tummy aches
  • Aggressive or reckless behavior that marks a departure from the usual

Related article: How important is it to keep a positive mindset?

Depression is not an attitude problem

Teenage depression can be often mistaken by parents as "growing pains" or attitude problems. As such, the diagnosis could be missed, says Lim.

It is important to see a doctor or professional if you suspect that your child needs help.

"Early treatment offers the best chances of recovery. Antidepressant medications may protect against the effects of life stresses," adds Lim.

Causes of depression in the young

Depression may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Genetic factors, such as a family history of depression, could mean a person has a predisposition for depression. A key factor in resisting depression, resilience, is to some extent related to genetic makeup.

Environmental factors such as traumatic life experiences, stress, relationship problems, exams and studies could increase the risk of depression.

"Life's stresses can overwhelm young people's coping abilities. Learning to cope with stress and the availability of social support become very important buffers," says Lim.

Related article: All you need to know about depression

How can parents help their depressed teenager

These pointers may help parents who want to support their depressed teen:

  • Try to remain patient and positive even when the teen shows disinterest and tearfulness. Don't blame him or her. These could be symptoms of depression.
  • Encourage your child to see a doctor or counselor who can help map out strategies for recovery.
  • If your teen takes antidepressant medication, make sure that he or she takes the right dose regularly.
  • Watch for any mood changes for the worse. If your child talks about suicide, seek help immediately.

Related Q&A: Curious to know the issues people like you have regarding depression? Read Health Xchange's past Q&A session on the topic.

Treatments for depression

There are two main types of treatment for depression. The first one is psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy aims to help the person think more positively and deal with problems and relationships. It can take the form of family therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy or supportive psychotherapy.

The second one is medication. Antidepressant drugs can correct biochemical imbalances in the brain which contribute to depressive episodes.

Lim points out that "a combination of medication and psychotherapy has been shown to be more effective than either taken individually. However, in the very young, psychosocial interventions are preferred."

This article was written by Fong Yuke Ching for Health Xchange, with expert input from the Department of Psychiatry at Singapore General Hospital.

Find more healthy living tips and articles on HealthXchange.com.sg, Singapore's trusted health and lifestyle portal.

Health Xchange's articles are meant for informational purposes only and cannot replace professional surgical, medical or health advice, examination, diagnosis, or treatment.

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