Adolescence depression and how it can affect the processes of learning?

Adolescence depression might be a very uncommon term, but this topic needs to be addressed so as to curb this problem before it becomes major.

INTRODUCTION: Depression is a state of mind which presents as low moods and general sadness. It can present as anxiousness, restlessness or simply being sad. The person undergoing depression usually loses interest in activities, feels tired most of the time or may indulge into activities like taking drugs and can also attempt willful cessation of life- simply suicide.

BACKGROUND AND DEFINITION: Adolescent depression is defined as a disorder that affects teenagers. It leads to sadness, discouragement, and a loss of self-worth and interest in their usual activities. The adolescence period is usually the age group of 11 years to 19 years. Referring to adolescent depression, we need to keep in mind the matters that can cause depression. This age is a very variable age. I will discuss the reasons that might cause depression one by one according the sub divisions in the adolescent period. Cases of adolescent depression are on the rise. It’s difficult to say if it is the number of cases which is increasing, or is it that we are now being more aware or mindful of the fact that adolescents are now at a greater risk of suffering from depression. Whatever the case be, the point remains that adolescents are seriously suffering from depression and it needs to be addressed as soon as it is diagnosed. Ignored cases can lead to drug abuse, self-harm or even suicide. Depression can alter the way adolescents see themselves and people around them. Teenagers who are depressed usually see everything wrongly and adversely. They fail to understand that any problem or situation can be solved in a positive and a nonviolent way. BIOLOGICAL BASIS OF DEPRESSION: Depression can be roughly divided into two types. Endogenous and neurotic. Endogenous depression would mean that a type of depression that has no known cause. It’s also sometimes linked with genetic predisposition. Chemical changes in the brain have been linked to this, but yet it has not been proved till now.

The other type fore mentioned, is the neurotic depression. This kind of depression has a clear link to a cause that might be causing depression. Loss of a friend, failing a class or physical and sexual abuse are examples of events that might lead to neurotic depression. Our brain functions with the help of certain chemicals and hormones. When there is intense focusing on a certain thought, it can lead to disruption of the balance of the chemicals and hormones, leading to depression. Many psychologists have worked on digging out the biological basis of depression. A wellknown psychologist Laurence Steinberg did a study and concluded that ‘it’s not the teens, it’s their brains’. He mentions that it’s the development of the brain at that point which causes the changes in the behavior of the teens and that leads to certain events in their life, which lead to them being depressed.

DEPRESSION SYMPTOMS: The symptoms of depression differ and are variable according to the sub-age group. Early adolescents or pre-teens usually have very low moods. Other symptoms include; inability to focus on their activities, loss of interest at school, disrupted relations with friends, being generally quiet, change of appetite- may increase or decrease, episodes of memory loss, not being very social etc. Early teens are usually aggressive. They get angry more often. They start becoming rebellious. They question parents on being forbidden to do anything they desire. Females of this age group are reported to have episodes of crying, and males usually yelling. The appetite may increase leading to obesity. The teen may complain of fatigue and body aches and pains. The patient may report to have loss of interest in activities that were enjoyable once. Other symptoms include being anxious, restless and irritable. Late teens which fall in the category of late adolescents have a slightly different way of reacting. Their symptoms vary. The late teens are usually more violent and aggressive. Parents usually report drug and alcohol abuse in them. Usually they start with smoking tobacco, then marijuana and then hard drugs like cocaine and crystal meth. They suffer from sleep disorders. Excessive eating leads to obesity, which further aggravates depression due to rejection from others on the basis of outlook. The affected individual usually singles out and does not participate in social activities and spends most of the time alone, locked up in the bedroom. The patients of this age group also suffer from behavioral disorders like shop lifting, indulging in illegal activities, bullying others etc.

Symptoms common to all age group are; low moods, agitation, change of appetite and sleep patterns, crying, loss of interest and failure to focus.

People refer it to be a ‘normal’ behavior in adolescents, however it is not normal. This is a serious issue and needs to be treated as it can lead to worsening of symptoms and drug abuse.

CAUSES OF PEPRESSION: I would again explain this part according to the sub division in the ages of adolescents. In the early adolescents, the causes are usually unknown or endogenous – more simply idiopathic. But certain events can lead to depression like stresses at school, bullying, social neglect, neglect from parents and siblings, etc. conflicts with parents has a major role in being depressed. Many psychologists blame the influence of sex hormones. As the body before the induction of sex hormones has a different physiology than after it. The sex hormones cause changes to the body which can cause depression. In females, the start of menstruation is seen to be a great stress to the mind and body and can therefore lead to depression. Child abuse, both physical and sexual leads to severe depression. At the early age, pre-teens are more viable to such activities and can therefore suffer from this. In the mid-teens, causes are different. Mostly they are depressed due to stresses related to education, breakups with boyfriend or girlfriend, loss of a family member or a friend, failure to achieve a goal they had planned, social and moral restrictions etc. Many teens are depressed due to conflicts with parents. The other major cause seen is the physical effect of sex hormones. It causes acne and weight gain, which leads to slight changes in the beauty of the body. This causes social dejection and aggravates the depressive episodes. Depression leads to appetite changes, which lead to further changes in the body and further aggravating the problem. The late teens have other stresses that can lead to depression. Their age is such that they have to focus on their careers and failing to do so can lead to depression. They need to score good grades as the competition at that stage of life increases. Simultaneously at their stage, other activities are on the rise too like sports and social gatherings. So they find it difficult to maintain a goal and get into a depressive phase. Other causes are termination of relationships, conflicts with parents, a blank future ahead and usage of drugs and alcohol. I would put some blame on the media as well. On one side negative news is being aired which usually focusses on wars, killings, violence etc. and on the other hand, a false glamorous image is being put up. The teens try to copy the fashion status and fail to do so in terms of finance and time.

DEPRESSED ADOLESCENT AND SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS: The depressed adolescent usually singles out. The relationships with family and friends are affected. They boycott social relationships and spend most of their time alone. As symptoms of depression include crying and yelling out loud, they prefer not to share it. This causes neglect which exacerbates the issue.

HOW CAN DEPRESSION AFFECT THE LEARNING PROCESS? Depression leads to the mind state being agitated, restless, unfocussed, inability to concentrate, failure to absorb what is being told to u and being distracted. With all of this, the affected person cannot focus or concentrate on what he or she is being told to learn. The mind is preoccupied and the listening and absorbing capabilities are depressed, leading to not being able to learn properly as expected. Now this becomes a vicious cycle. When the person is not able to learn certain things, he or she would probably fail an exam related to that subject- leading to more phases of depression. Depression also alters the sleeping cycle. Loss of sleep pattern leads to lesser concentration during school, and tiredness which hampers the learning process. The patient suffers from low self-esteem which affects learning as well. Then teen usually shifts to drug, substance and alcohol abuse to counter the effects of depression- but their side effects cause hurdles in learning. Therefore the learning gets affected more and more.

TREATMENT: Treatment of depression is based on two main modalities. Psychological therapy and pharmacological therapy. Psychological therapy refers to ‘talk therapy’. Means you talk out to the patient about his or her problems and offer simple and easier solutions to the problem. It is very important to understand the nature of the problem and its extent. The patient might be on the verge of committing suicide... it’s the duty of the psychotherapist to make the patient vocalize the problems. Talking out often leads to the solution of the problem. The adolescent may feel he or she is not being neglected and there is someone out for them to listen to their problems and understand them. The parents should also take this problem seriously and be friendly towards their children and not neglect them and their achievements. An encouraging attitude should be shown to them.

The other modality of treatment is the use of pharmacological therapy- also called psychological medicine. The medicines used are anti-depressants. It should be noted that not all antidepressants can be used to treat depression in adolescents. And as every medicine has certain side effects, their use should only be done in severe cases. The most commonly used and the safest group of drugs for the adolescents and the teens are the ‘selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors’ or SSRIs. Prozac and Alprazolam are examples of SSRIs which are used. It should be noted that Tricyclic Antidepressants should not be used in adolescents. Side effects of these drugs include; suicidal behavior, further exacerbation of depression, gastrointestinal effects, migraines and personality changes etc. Drug addiction is also seen in cases. Research is being done and it is suspected that antidepressants have an effect on the development of the brain. And therefore the usage should be only in very severe cases. The alarming thing about the use of antidepressants is the risk of suicide. The patients are more prone to attempting suicides. The parents and the guardians should supervise the patients at all times during the therapy. And the dose and duration should not be altered without consultation from the doctor. Antidepressants should NOT be prescribed alone. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and talk therapy should be simultaneously be given.

CONCLUSION: To summarize what I’ve mentioned above, it should be of a great concern to all that adolescents are undergoing depression. The age is such that any changes in their life can lead to long term personality changes. Therefore it is indeed a very alarming problem and it should be dealt with seriously. Psychologists should research on this problem and sessions should be offered in schools in case a patient is seen. Parents should also be worried about this problem and hence they should give attention to their child and look out for symptoms of depression and seek medical help if required.