Vast majority of depressed teens do not get needed psychiatric treatment

September 24, 2000

Damaging effects seen in early adulthood

Approximately 80 percent of depressed teenagers do not get necessary psychiatric medical treatment, a new study found. The study of 274 randomly-selected Oregon teens ages 14-19, who were monitored until age 24, found that overlooked depressed teens are likely to experience a repeat bout of major depression - and get involved in substance abuse - by early adulthood. The results are published in the October 2000 American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP), coincidentally timed during Mental Illness Awareness Week (October 2-7, 2000).

Especially at risk for a recurrence of major depression are depressed teenage girls who clash with parents; or any teenager who experiences more than one episode of depression, or who has a family history of recurrent depression.

"Knowing which teens are prone to recurrences might lead to prevention for some and early treatment for others," note the study authors, led by Peter M. Lewinsohn, Ph.D., of the Oregon Research Institute

The study found that by their 24th birthday, roughly one-fourth of formerly depressed teens experienced subsequent major depressive disorder; one-fourth experienced comorbid major depressive disorder; one-fourth remained free from depression recurrence but experienced a non-mood disorder, such as substance abuse, anxiety and eating disorders; and only one-fourth of the teens studied were free of illness by age 24.

"The fact that only 20 percent of depressed adolescents seen as part of this highly-structured, longitudinal follow-up study received some form of treatment strongly suggests that in community settings, the adolescent window of therapeutic opportunity is more likely than not missed," write Andres Martin, M.D., and Donald J. Cohen, M.D., in an accompanying editorial in the Oct. 2000 AJP.

"The early recognition of - and the development of effective treatments for - adolescent depression clearly should be a high public health priority," said Dr. Lewinsohn.
["Natural Course of Adolescent Major Depressive Disorder in a Community Sample: Predictors of Recurrence in Young Adults" by Peter M. Lewinsohn, Ph.D., et. al., p. 1584, American Journal of Psychiatry, October 2000.]

["Adolescent Depression: Window of (Missed?) Opportunity?" by Andres Martin, M.D., and Donald J. Cohen, M.D., p. 1549, American Journal of Psychiatry, October 2000.]

American Psychiatric Association

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