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Depression in adolescence: see the signs and how to identify

Depression in adolescence: see the signs and how to identify

Since the challenge of the blue whale, there has been more and more talk about depression in adolescents. Depression is characterized by a constellation of symptoms and signs including:

  • Great decrease in ability to feel pleasure or interest in all or almost all activities
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Psychomotor agitation or delay
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Feeling of worthlessness or excessive or inadequate guilt
  • Decreased ability to think or concentrate or indecision
  • Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation or attempted suicide or specific plan to commit suicide. (1)

The symptoms presented by adolescents are basically the same as those of adults, and the clarity of a person's description of their condition as in adults will depend on the ability to self -observation and richness of the patient's vocabulary. An important difference, however, in children and adolescents is that, instead of sadness, the main manifestation may be irritability (1).

The observed prevalence of depression in adolescents ranges from 3 to 8%; late adolescence about 20% will have had some depressive episode. It is possible that in low- or middle-income countries the picture is more common (2). Consistent with this last observation, in a Brazilian study conducted between 2005 and 2006, 20% of adolescents between 14 and 15 had mild to moderate depression and 8.9% major depression, as well as 13.5% of those between 16 and 17 years (3).

People with depression may also present more frequently other psychiatric conditions, such as the various forms of anxiety, drug abuse, and attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder -laturity. There is also evidence that drug use can lead to depressive disorders (2).

In addition, depression can sometimes be due to the use of some types of medication, such as anti- inflammatory drugs of the corticoid group (1). When the diagnosis of depression is made, it is very important to investigate these aspects.

How can parents identify teenage depression?

Irritable behavior, resistance to start and perform tasks, excessive sleep leading the young person to staying too much in bed and the difficulty of concentration may lead parents to think that these are attitudes of rebellion and contestation, common in this age group. It is important that the family seek a psychiatric orientation to make a differential diagnosis between behavioral problems and a depressive disorder.

In general, good parenting practices recommend that parents stay close to their children, both in openness to conversations, as well as in the follow-up of the studies and in the knowledge of their daily life (4). The better they know their daughter or child, the less likely they are to be caught off guard by serious problems.

If a person suspects depression, always consult a psychiatrist, who is the professional with the most complete and adequate to give appropriate guidance in such cases.


1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC.

2. Thapar A; Pine DS; Leckman JF; Scott S; Snowling MJ; Taylor EA Rutter's Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 6th Edition (2015), Chischester, UK (Kindle edition)

4. Coelho CL, Crippa JA, Santos JL, Pinsky I, Zaleski M, Caetano R, Laranjeira R. Higher prevalence of major depressive symptoms in Brazilians aged 14 and older. Rev Bras Psiquiatr. 2013 Apr-Jun; 35 (2): 142-9.

5. Steinberg L The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting (2005). New York, USA 207 p.

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