Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Looking Back at Adolescent Depression: A Qualitative Study

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Looking Back at Adolescent Depression: A Qualitative Study

Article excerpt

Adolescent depression is a serious disorder marked by a prevalence rate of approximately 5% along with significant rates of relapse and mortality (Brent & Birmaher, 2002). This qualitative study involved semistructured interviews of nine young adults who were diagnosed with and treated for major depressive disorder between the ages of 15 and 18. Five themes emerged from the interviews: (a) talking to a counselor about their depression was helpful; (b) participants obtained relief in their counseling and expressed respect for their professional helpers; (c) parental (and adult) partnerships are important; (d) friends of the adolescent clients were usually helpful to them; and (e) the adolescents possessed a realistic optimism concerning a possible subsequent depressive episode. Implications for mental health counselors are also discussed


Concerns over adolescents' mental health, particularly related to depression, are becoming increasingly apparent. According to an Annenberg Public Policy Center survey ("School officials identify," 2004) of 1400 mental health professionals working in public high schools, depression and substance abuse issues were cited as the most serious challenges, receiving ratings even higher than various forms of violence. Over two-thirds of the responding professionals identified depression as either a great or moderate problem. Furthermore, only 34% of survey participants indicated that their school had a clear process for identifying students with mental health issues. Of those students in need of counseling, the majority of professionals expressed a belief that only half or fewer receive the needed mental health services.

Adolescent depression potentially affects youths' overall well-being, interpersonal relationships and academic performance, as well as family and support systems. More importantly, adolescent depression is often related to suicide, the third leading cause of death for those aged 15-24. In 2002, 1531 youth between the ages of 15 and 19 committed suicide (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2005). According to the CDC Web site, "Adolescents and young adults often experience stress, confusion, and depression from situations occurring in their families, schools, and communities. Such feelings can overwhelm young people and lead them to consider suicide as a 'solution'" (CDC, n.d.). Mental health counselors working with adolescent students and clients are encouraged to have a strong knowledge base on this problem, as the rate of such depression and suicide "constitutes a crisis in our society" (Stanard, 2000, p. 10). Finally, Evans, Van Velsor, and Schumacher (2002) called adolescent depression "one of the most overlooked and undertreated psychological disorders" within this period of development (p. 211).

Brent and Birmaher (2002) described adolescent depression as "a chronic, recurrent, and serious illness associated with substantial morbidity and mortality," yet also as an "eminently treatable condition" with medication and specific types of therapy (p. 670). At any given time, about 5% of adolescents are depressed, and, without professional help, a major depressive episode lasts approximately eight months. Furthermore, the risk of recurrence is significant. Within two years, about 40% of individuals will have another major depressive episode. Within five years, this statistic increases to 72% (Brent & Birmaher).

Signs and symptoms of adolescent depression can be consistent with those found in adult depression. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (4th ed., text revised) (DSM-IV-TR) (American Psychiatric Association, 2000) does not differentiate between adolescent and adult depression; in both cases, five or more symptoms must be present during the same two-week period and mark a change from the level of previous functioning. Of the nine DSM-IV-TR symptoms, only one criterion specifically mentions adolescents: Under "depressed mood most of the day," a subsequent note indicates that this can appear as an irritable mood in the adolescent population. …

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