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Rising rates of depression, particularly among young women, have been highlighted by researchers in a report published today which shows that rates of depression among teenage girls have more than doubled over the past 14 years.

The report “Turning the tide depression: A Vision That Starts with Australia’s Youth’ looks at depression – a serious mental health condition that affects people’s lives and well-being – in four groups: children; adolescents; young adults; and First Nations youth.

“Over the last decade, depression has become more common in teenagers and young adults. There are also alarming signs of increased depressive symptoms in children following the COVID-19 pandemic,” warns Professor Sam Harvey, Executive Director and Chief Scientist of the Black Institute of Dog Breeding.

“This report calls for increased support and a more holistic approach to future work to prevent and treat depression. The research and analysis in this report shed light on what we need to start doing to turn the tide of these rising rates of depression.”

The report looks not only at trends in the prevalence of depression over recent years, but also at how the lives of children, teenagers and young adults have changed over the past two decades and whether certain changes may increase the risk of depression. Key changes identified include more unstable employment, greater financial stress, experiences of cyberbullying and social isolation.

Some of these changes have been identified as particularly important for certain age groups. For children, decreased physical activitypoor sleep and greater family stress may have contributed to increased depressive symptoms during the pandemic.

For teenagers, poor sleep, loneliness and a lack of supportive social networks were highlighted as possible factors. The new data also explored the complex relationship between screen time and adolescent depression.

Young adults at greater risk for depression included those experiencing financial hardship and loneliness, with women, foreign students and LGBTQIA+ young people are particularly vulnerable.

“Compared to previous decades, young adults today face increased financial pressures, more competition for entry-level jobs, more challenging postsecondary trajectories, and greater loneliness,” said Dr. Alexis Wheaton, research fellow and psychologist at the Black Dog Institute. “These risk factors are often more pronounced for young women.”

First Nations youth were noted to be at particularly high risk, although the exact level of risk was difficult to determine because measures used to diagnose and monitor depression were often inappropriate for use with First Nations peoples. The report calls for the development of culturally appropriate tools, as well as greater involvement of First Nations in the development and delivery of mental health services.

Key data from the report

Children (up to 12 years)

  • Australia lacks recent data on depression in children. The latest figures for 2013-14 show that the rate of depression among children was 1.6% among girls and 1.2% among boys.
  • A rapid review and meta-analysis by the Black Dog Institute examined whether the incidence of depression in children has increased in recent years. The results showed that while rates of diagnosed depression in children have not increased over the past two decades, there has been an alarming spike in depressive symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, about 23.4% of children showed clinically significant symptoms of depression.
  • Sleep may have played a role. About one-third of 8- to 11-year-olds reported worse sleep quality during the COVID-19 restrictions than before, and these changes in perceived sleep quality were associated with poorer well-being.

Professor Jenny Hudson, director of research at the Black Dog Institute, says: “Depression in children often goes unrecognised, and this lack of early intervention can have lifelong consequences. There are many factors, from genetics, puberty and lifestyle factors to parenting and family stress can contribute to depression in children.”

“Factors Contributing to Growth symptoms of depression in children during the COVID-19 pandemic may include increased demands on parents during this period (including financial stress), as well as changes in the child’s daily routine, such as physical activity, sleep patterns and social engagement,” said Professor Hudson.

Teenagers

  • Depression is almost three times more common in teenagers than in children, with the latest Australian estimates for 2013-14 showing a prevalence of around 5%.
  • Rates of depression among teenagers are on the rise. Data from the US show that between 2008 and 2020, the proportion of 12–17-year-olds who reported experiencing at least one major depressive episode in the past 12 months more than doubled, from 8.3% in 2008 to 17.0% in 2020. was especially pronounced among teenage girls.
  • In 2019, the Black Dog Institute launched the Future Proofing Study, which is now the most comprehensive cohort study of adolescent mental health in Australia. New data from this study shows that teens who identify as gender- or sexually diverse are at greater risk of depression than cisgender, heterosexual teens. Approximately 40–60% of gender and/or sexuality diverse adolescents report clinically significant depressive symptoms, compared with 7–20% for cisgender heterosexual adolescents.
  • Data from the Future Proofing Study also found that screen time and depression are linked, particularly in adolescent girls. However, the analysis showed that none of the hypothesized factors, such as negative social evaluation of social media use, greater changes in peer relationships, cyberbullying, or sleep disturbances, explained why depression and screen time were more strongly associated in adolescent girls. , than boys. The researchers suggest that the direction of the relationship may be reversed—depressed girls may turn to digital media as a way to cope.
  • Students are most concerned about school and academic performance, COVID-19, social relationships and mental health.

Associate Professor Aliza Werner-Seidler from the Black Dog Institute said: “Teens with clinically significant depressive symptoms show greater difficulties with everyday functioning. Compared to teens without depression, depressed teens are three times more likely to experience difficulties participating in school activities and social and physical workload and were five times more likely to experience difficulties in performing daily self-care tasks.”

“The possibility that depression leads to increased screen use, rather than the other way around, needs to be explored with longitudinal data, something we will investigate in a future validation study,” said Dr. Werner-Seidler. “At this stage, we do not have conclusive evidence for the nature or direction of the association between screen time and depression.”

Young adults

  • Data from the 2021 census showed that the highest proportion of people with a chronic mental illness were those aged 20–24 (12%) and 25–29 (12%).
  • The prevalence of depression among young Australians has increased by 72% over the past 14 years.
  • The gender gap in the prevalence of depression among young people has more than doubled in the past 14 years, driven by a faster rise in the prevalence of depression in young women than in young men.

New data from the Black Dog Institute shows that some young people have mental health needs that are likely to remain unmet.

  • Data about university students who sought help through a new digital mental health intervention, Vibe Up, found that more than half with a mental health diagnosis were not receiving regular help from a mental health professional.
  • Lack of regular contact with a mental health professional was particularly evident for students from the LGBTQIA+ community, highlighting the need for more inclusive health services for this community.
  • More than 40% of university students said they felt lonely often or all the time, and loneliness was associated with more severe levels of depression.
  • University students who considered themselves to be less financially secure had more severe levels of depression.

“Compared to previous decades, young adults now face increased financial pressures, more competition for entry-level jobs, more difficult postsecondary trajectories, and greater loneliness,” says Dr. Alexis Wheaton, research fellow and psychologist at the Black Dog Institute. “These risk factors are often more pronounced for younger women”.

“Despite the increased risk of depression, few international university students sought help for their mental health, either through digital intervention or the university health service. This suggests that international students may face additional barriers, such as stigma, that prevent them from seeking mental health care when needed,” says Dr. Wheaton.

First Nations Youth

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people together make up 3.5% of Australia’s population. First Nations youth face suicide at a much higher rate than the general population, but their voices continue to go unheard.
  • The burden of disease, including mental health issues, faced by First Nations people has not improved despite federal government initiatives and investments over the past decade.
  • Social and emotional impairments among First Nations youth are increasing, not decreasing.
  • There is no single instrument to measure all aspects of the social and emotional well-being of First Nations youth, so much more work is needed in this area. At the same time, a variety of cultural measures should be used to identify impairments in social and emotional well-being among First Nations youth.
  • The Black Dog Institute has launched iBobbly, the world’s first suicide prevention app targeting First Nations youth aged 15 and over. Together with the Black Dog Institute, the project team developed the iBobbly app and then piloted it with 61 First Nations youth in the Kimberley region. Research shows the positive impact of its use among First Nations youth and suggests that digital interventions may be one way to support the well-being of First Nations youth, particularly in remote areas.

Dr. Clinton Schultz, Director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Strategy, Black Dog Institute, said: “Government attempts to alleviate the burden of disease experienced by First Nations people have historically failed and continue to fail due to lack of awareness and lack of adoption of the First Nations Wellbeing Perspective.”

“Social and emotional well-being for First Nations continues to be a complex topic that is largely misrepresented by public policy and intervention planning, and this requires further investment and research,” said Dr. Schultz.


Almost a tenth of the US population suffers from depression


Courtesy of Black Dog Institute

Citation: Youth depression in Australia rising at alarming rate, especially among young women (2022, October 4) Retrieved October 4, 2022, from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2022-10-australian-youth-depression-alarming -young.html

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