What’s so Bad about Teenage Depression?

What’s so Bad about Teenage Depression?

 By Jim Windell

           The title of this piece asks what is so bad about teenagers being depressed. After all, aren’t all teenagers sad and depressed at some time or another? Well, the answer to the question as to what’s so terrible about youth being depressed is simple: Plenty.

           Depression is rarely diagnosed in young children but is more frequently found in teenagers. Some previous studies have suggested that adolescents who suffered from depression were more likely to have adverse outcomes – such as atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease and premature death. Sometimes psychiatric conditions –  anxiety and substance use disorder, for instance – are linked to depression during adolescence. However, a large observational study by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have found that there is a serious need to pay attention to childhood or adolescent depression.

           In this Swedish study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, the researchers wanted to examine whether depression at an early age might be associated with a wide spectrum of diseases diagnosed later in life. They also examined how other psychiatric conditions affected the association and whether youth depression heightened the risk of premature death.

           Sarah E. Bergen, senior researcher at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, and her colleagues followed almost 1.5 million Swedish girls and boys. Of those youth who were followed in the study, more than 37,000 were diagnosed with depression at least once between the ages of 5 and 19. At the end of the research, all were between 17 and 31 years old.

           The study found that children and teenagers with depression had a higher risk of being diagnosed with 66 out of 69 examined medical conditions, including sleep disorders, type 2 diabetes, viral hepatitis, and kidney and liver diseases. Compared to those without depression, they also had a significantly higher risk of injuries, especially injuries inflicted by self-harm, and an almost six-times higher risk of premature death.

           Sex differences were revealed in the findings. For example, women with early onset depression were more likely to suffer injuries as well as urinary, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to have obesity, thyroid gland problems, coeliac disease, connective tissue disorders and eczema.

           "Our study shows that children and teenagers diagnosed with depression have a significantly higher risk of premature death, self-harm, and suffering from other diseases later in life" says Sarah E. Bergen, corresponding author of the study. "It underscores how important it is that these children and teenagers receive the help they need and that medical personnel monitor for subsequent psychiatric and somatic diseases."

           More research is needed to better understand the link between depression and other diseases, comments Marica Leone, PhD candidate at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Karolinska Institutet. "Currently, we cannot say whether depression leads to an increased risk of negative health effects or whether there are other underlying factors that lead to increased risks for both depression and the diseases examined in this study," Leone, first author of the study, says. "Therefore, it is important to investigate how these processes affect each other and whether we, through discovery of these disease mechanisms, can find targets for intervention and treatment to improve overall health."

           To read the original journal article, find it at:

Marica Leone, Ralf Kuja-Halkola, Amy Leval, Brian M. D'Onofrio, Henrik Larsson, Paul Lichtenstein, Sarah E. Bergen. Association of youth depression with subsequent somatic diseases and premature deathJAMA Psychiatry, 2020 DOI: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2020.3786


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