JUNE 2023


Depression Emerges as Leading Cause of Illness and Disability Among Adolescents

Depression has become the leading cause of illness and disability among adolescents worldwide, which in most cases go undetected and untreated, increasing the risk of suicide.

A recent meta-analysis of twenty-nine studies, which involved 80,879 teenagers, showed that mental health in youth has doubled compared to pre-pandemic levels. Approximately 1 in 4 adolescents experience depression, while 1 in 5 suffer from anxiety-related symptoms.

Abdurahman Kenny, Mental Health Portfolio Manager for Pharma Dynamics, explains that while teen mental health was already declining prior to COVID-19, the pandemic has exacerbated feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Disruptions to routines, missed milestones, extended school disruptions, prolonged social isolation, and fears related to health and finances have significantly impacted the mental well-being of youth. The extraordinary stress and disruption experienced during the pandemic can be very damaging for a child’s psyche, which typically thrives on routine and predictability.

The study found that older children are more severely affected than younger ones, likely due to puberty, hormonal changes, and lack of social interaction. Girls exhibit a higher vulnerability to depression and anxiety compared to boys, aligning with studies conducted before the pandemic.

Kenny emphasizes that depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders are among the most common mental health concerns in youth. Depressive symptoms, such as sadness, loss of interest in activities, disturbed sleep, changes in appetite, lack of concentration, irritability, low energy, engaging in risky or harmful behavior, substance abuse, and prolonged feelings of hopelessness, can lead to suicidal ideation if not properly addressed.

In South Africa, where mental health resources are limited, it is crucial for parents to be more aware of behavioral changes in their children in order to provide them with the necessary support.

Here’s What You Can Do as a Parent:

  1. Be there for your child: Show empathy and understanding – even if they don’t want to talk to you or do much of anything. Depression makes even doing the smallest of tasks difficult. Validate their emotions, but not their unhealthy behavior. Ask questions about their mood in a non-threatening way. Don’t be judgmental or try to solve their problems, just listen to what they are saying and let them know that you are there for them, while showing compassion for what they’re going through.
  2. Focus on the positive: Compliment them on the positive things they do – even if it’s just going to school, setting the dinner table or helping with the dishes. Try not to belabor their negative points, but rather acknowledge that they’re trying. They don’t want to feel this way. If they could snap out of it, they would, but depression doesn’t work that way. Showing love and appreciation for the little things they do well will strengthen your relationship.
  3. Encourage self-care: While it may be difficult for your teen to look after themselves while they’re feeling depressed, it’s vitally important. Getting regular exercise, eating healthy meals, sleeping enough, participating in sports and wholesome hobbies that make them feel good about themselves, limiting screen time and social media use, practicing gratitude by keeping a journal, encouraging social interaction, setting achievable goals are all things they can do that will improve their mood and self-esteem.
  4. Set boundaries: Healthy boundaries are essential for youth to form positive relationships with others. Setting these limits create physical and emotional safety for your teen, so they know what is acceptable and what is not. Even when they are depressed, rules should be respected.
  5. Get them the help they need: Discuss going to a therapist if their mood doesn’t improve. If they don’t want to go, ask in what way you can help. If they tell you to back off, don’t retaliate with anger. It might just be their way of telling you they need space. Accept their response and give them some more time to think about it. If they don’t come back to you, ask your GP to recommend a few therapists. Then put the suggested therapists to your teen and ask them to make a choice. It’s important to make them feel involved in the process, which sets the stage for effective therapy.

Kenny says there are several kinds of therapy that might be helpful. “These include interpersonal therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy and dialectical behavioural therapy. which all play a role in the recovery process. However, a thorough assessment should be done by a psychiatrist in order to recommend the most appropriate treatment for your child.

“Teenagers with depression may also benefit from medication, such as anti-depressants, but the best results are usually obtained when combining medicine with psychotherapy (talking with a therapist). That said, your teen has to be committed to therapy, therefore finding the right therapist that your child can connect with is key.”

He says while challenging behaviour tends to be the norm for teenagers, parents should be on the lookout for signs of depression as early detection and treatment are crucial.

For more info on how to manage depression, visit My Dynamics or contact Pharma Dynamics’ toll-free helpline on 0800 205 026, which is manned by trained counsellors who are on call from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.

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