Emotional turbulence is seen as such a common characteristic of the teen years that we may be in danger of overlooking the very real mental health issues adolescents can experience. For example, depression is more common among teens than most people realize.
Whether from a failure to recognize their problems are not just part of adolescence, a lack of access or fear of stigma, teens may not receive treatment from mental health professionals when they should, and this can increase the chances of poor outcomes such as persistence, worsening or recurrence of symptoms.
A recent study, done in England explored this issue. From 2005-2010, researchers followed over 1200 teens ages 14-17 to determine whether early therapy with a mental health professional affected their depressive symptoms.
The odds of a teenager reporting clinical depression at age 17 were more than seven times higher among teenagers who had not been helped when they were younger.
Depressed 14-year-olds who had had contact with the mental health system had fewer depressive symptoms later on than those teens who did not have contact with the system. The odds of a teenager reporting clinical depression at age 17 were more than seven times higher among teenagers who had not been helped when they were younger.
The even better news was that young teens with depressive symptoms who had someone to tell their troubles to for at least three years had such a decrease in depressive symptoms that by study end they were similar to participants who had never experienced depression.
The findings underscore what a big difference early help for emotional problems can make. “Mental illness can be a terrible burden on individuals, but our study shows clearly that if we intervene at an early stage, we can see potentially dramatic improvements in adolescents’ symptoms of depression and reduce the risk that they go on to develop severe depressive illness,” Sharon Neufeld, first author of the study, said in a statement.
The researchers argue that making mental health counseling more available and improving teens' use of mental health services will reduce the burden of mental health issues occurring later in adolescence and early adulthood.
The study is published in Lancet Psychiatry.