Eighteen-year-old Evita Sood, a first year English Hons student is a very busy person. After her classes, she doubles as a peer educator for students who are depressed. She counsels depressed adolescents who account for 25 per cent of young population who are taking aid of psychologists.
Those seeking help are just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. "Even when adolescents are aware of being depressed, they are reluctant to talk about it, especially to figures of authority such as parents or teachers," says Dr Amit Sen, child and adolescent psychiatrist at Sitaram Bhartia Hospital.
What makes diagnosis tough is that depression in young people usually manifests in defiance and aggression, extreme sibling rivalry and risk taking behaviours such as drinking, drugs, promiscuity and shoplifting. Depression in young people often coexists with other mental disorders such as anxiety and disruptive behaviour, or illnesses such as diabetes, reports the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Since parents are usually the last to know, the Vidyasagar Institute of Mental and Neurosciences (VIMHANS) decided to train students as peer educators. Sood was one of four in her batch to be trained two years ago. "Most of my friends said their parents talked to them, but did not listen. A close friend had a nervous breakdown before her parents finally began listening to her," says Sood.
It's this "refrigerator parenting" - where parents give them everything but are cold to their feelings -- says Dr Jitendra Nagpal, senior consultant psychologist, VIMHANS, which usually makes depressed adolescents choose defiance to seek attention. "It's only when grades fall or the child is close to expulsion that parents realise there is something wrong," says Nagpal.
Yet, parents need not fear that an occasional scuffle at school is a sign of depression. "Some conduct problems are normal, but if the child's behaviour becomes very difficult then there is a cause to worry for the parents," says Dr Sen.
Psychotherapy, along with newer antidepressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), is very effective in treating depression in young people. Available studies, however, do not support the efficacy of tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) for treating depression in youth. But more than that, supporting an adolescent through the turbulent teens can help identify depression and get it treated.
Persistent irritability, sadness
Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
Significant change in appetite or body weight
Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
Loss of energy
Psychosomatic complaints such as frequent headaches or stomache
Slipping grades, frequent complaints from school
Increased irritability, anger, or hostility