The transition from the teen years to early adulthood is marked by several important decisions about careers, whether to enroll in college and often new levels of financial independence. A new study finds that some young adults may face additional challenges as they transition from the teen years. Those who experienced depression during adolescence had difficulties in several areas of life, such as excessive drinking.
The study, which appears in a recent issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, provides evidence that teens who meet the criteria for depression are more liable to suffer serious problems, including mental health disorders and excessive alcohol consumption during young adult years. The study’s findings differ from previous research in that they do not indicate that depression in the teenage years is associated with a reduction in income, employment or marital status or the pursuing of a college degree.
Instead, the findings point to alcohol abuse as well as poor overall health and a lack of a social support network. Senior author Ian Colman, Ph.D., of the department of epidemiology and community medicine at the University of Ottowa, explains that the problems can last the first 10 years of young adult life.
An estimated 8 percent to 20 percent of adolescents meet the criteria for a depression diagnosis during the teenage years. Because the transition to adulthood is filled with what could be stressful decisions and changes in independence levels and responsibility, those who also struggle with depression could find this period of life particularly difficult.
The authors note that although the findings did not show an association between teen depression and challenges in the areas of employment and marriage, for instance, this could be due to changes in when these milestones are taking place. If more individuals who experienced depression in adolescence are putting of marriage until their 30s, the study will not reflect potential difficulty in that area.
The study’s findings are reflective of the analysis of data collected from the Canada’s National Population Health Survey. The survey included 1,027 teens, all 16 or 17 years old. Seventeen of the teens (7%) surveyed were depressed at baseline in 1994. The teens were given follow-up surveys at two-year intervals through 2008.
Adolescents diagnosed with depression were 4.9 times more likely to experience depression at the follow-up, in addition to experiencing some type of mental distress. Those individuals were also more likely to be using an antidepressant at the second survey time.
Depressed teens were also 1.8 times more likely to be misusing alcohol and were 2.9 times more likely to be using tobacco on a daily basis when compared to non-depressed teen counterparts.
The researchers also discovered that teens who met criteria for depression were more likely to report migraine headaches as well as overall poor health during their 20s.
Experts say that the findings reflect clinical experience. Teens who are depressed go on to experience difficulty as they transition into adulthood, suffering repeated depressive episodes and additional mental health symptoms.
The findings of the study may be helpful in identifying adolescents at an increased risk for alcohol use disorder. A diagnosis of depression in a teen may allow for targeted education and intervention to help prevent the teen from initiating alcohol use.
In addition, the findings can help those who treat teen depression to educate teens about the risks they may face as they enter adulthood. Encouraging the development of a strong social support network and providing coaching for establishing those relationships may help a teen avoid other pitfalls of excessive alcohol consumption or other substance misuse in the early adult years.
Parents should also be aware of the signs of depression in their teenage children. If parents notice changes in sleep habits or other outward signs of mental health problems, they should talk with their child about their concerns and prepare to intervene if necessary.