Academic journal article High School Journal

Melancholy in the Millennium: A Study of Depression among Adolescents with and without Learning Disabilities

Academic journal article High School Journal

Melancholy in the Millennium: A Study of Depression among Adolescents with and without Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

Introduction

As schools prepare youth for the millennium, it is important that professionals consider the complex challenges teens will face as they enter the 21st century. Teens, aged 18 and younger will form a generation as big as the original baby boom. Their huge numbers will profoundly influence markets, attitudes, and society. On one hand, they have educational and economic opportunities never afforded any other generation. They are more accepting of mixed-races, nontraditional families, and non-sex role stereotypes. One the other hand, they live in a world of violence, infectious disease, and fierce economic divisions and competition. Because of their complex lives and more uncertain futures, it is possible that teens today will experience mental health problems earlier and more significantly than teens in the past. According to Maag & Forness (1998) depression represents one of the most significant mental health problems facing children and adolescents today. Not long ago depression was thought to occur only in adults; children and youth could not experience depression. We know now that depression is a very real phenomenon for some youth. While it may be acute and short lived for some, it can be subtle and long lasting for others. Significant depression is associated with suicide and suicidal ideation (Hayes & Sloat, 1988). Suicide is the leading cause of youth death (Page, 1996).

Adolescent depression is a recent focus of academic and mental health studies. Although earlier references to adolescent depression can be found (Freud, 1958), it was not until the mid 1980's that research in the area flourished. According the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 3 to 5% all children under the age of 18 experience serious depression. This amounts to well over 3.4 million depressed youngsters. An even greater number experience moderate depressive symptoms (Freidrich, Jacobs, & Reams, 1982). The prevalence of moderate to severe depression reported in the last 15 years ranges from 1.3% to 28% (Dalley, Bolocofsky, Alcorn, & Baker, 1992; Johnson, 1990; Kahn, Kehle, & Jenson, 1987; Kaplan, Hong, & Weinhold, 1984; Kashani et al., 1987; Kandel & Davis, 1982; Maag & Reid, 1994; Sullivan & Engin, 1986; Teri, 1982; Worchel, Nolan, & Willson, 1987). The considerable variability is the result of several factors, some of which include research methodology, measurement issues (Huntington & Bender, 1993), and uncertainties about how depression manifests itself in adolescents. Fassler and Dumas (1997) contend that "over one in four youngsters will experience a serious episode of depression by the time they reach their eighteenth birthday" (p. 2).

There are four types of depression that adolescents may experience: normal depression (Dixon, 1987), major depressive disorder, dysthymia, and bipolar depression (American Psychiatric Association [APA], 1994). The four types vary in type, severity, and persistence of symptoms. Normal depression is universal and not considered to be psychopathological. A student might experience normal depression over a bad grade or a break up. The "down" period is temporary and does not severely interfere with the student's psychosocial functioning (Dixon, 1987). Depression which results as a consequence of the death of a loved one is also considered to be normal depression. Usually, the degree of guilt and loss of self-esteem is minimal and the cause for depression is explainable. Major Depressive Disorder involves a combination of symptoms that significantly interfere with an individual's ability to work, sleep, eat, and enjoy once-pleasurable activities (APA, 1994). By definition, a major depressive disorder lasts for at least two weeks and may be accompanied by persistent sadness or anxiety, changes in appetite, and lack of interest in activities. These episodes may occur from one to several times during one's life. Individuals who experience this type of depression may or may not have histories of depression running in their families. …

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