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Depressed Teens Have Rocky Twenties

Depressed teenagers are more likely to have serious problems during their twenties, including ongoing mental illness and excessive drinking, finds a recent study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. However, unlike previous research findings, teenage depression did not appear to significantly reduce employment status, income, the likelihood of marrying or completing a post-secondary degree during early adulthood.

“Our research shows that depressed adolescents are more likely to suffer from numerous problems over the first ten years of adulthood. These include ongoing difficulties with mental illness, alcohol abuse, poor physical health, and inadequate social support networks,” said senior author Ian Colman, Ph.D., of the department of epidemiology and community medicine at the University of Ottawa.

Colman noted that teenage depression is common, affecting about 8 to 20 percent of adolescents worldwide and that the transition from adolescence to early adulthood involves many potentially stressful shifts in roles and responsibilities. As a result, he added, large segments of the population can be left starting adulthood in a rocky state. Although the study did not show diminished success in the realms of work or marriage for the participants in their twenties, the authors pointed out that such problems might well arise during the subjects’ thirties, especially since marriage and career accomplishments are often postponed until that decade.

The researchers based their findings on data from Canada’s National Population Health Survey. Their sample included 1,027 adolescents aged 16 to 17, of whom 71 (or 7 percent) were depressed at the time baseline measurements were done in 1994. Further surveys were conducted with the youths every two years, through 2008.

The researchers found that depressed adolescents had 4.9 times the odds of experiencing depression during the follow-up period and were more likely to experience some form of psychological distress and to be taking antidepressants. Depressed teens had 1.8 times the odds of abusing alcohol and 2.9 times the odds of smoking daily during their twenties compared to adolescents who weren’t depressed. Also, adolescent depression was strongly predictive of migraine headaches and low self-rated health as a young adult.

Deborah Amdur, M.D., a Cornell University-trained psychiatrist in private practice, said that the study confirms “common sense” psychiatric observations. “We see it clinically all the time that adolescents who suffer one or more periods of depression are likely to have recurrent episodes and also to do worse in terms of substance abuse during the next 10 years.”  However, she added, “it’s an important article in that it highlights certain areas where interventions might be helpful to a depressed adolescent,” including interventions designed to help depressed teens with befriending

others in order to increase social support,  which has shown significant effects in reducing depressive symptoms over the short and the long term.

Key Points

Depressed teens are more likely to experience ongoing problems with mental illness, excessive drinking, poor self-rated health and less social support during their twenties than non-depressed teens.

Teenage depression did not appear to reduce employment, income or likelihood of marriage during early adulthood.