Teen depression is a term used to describe symptoms of depressive illness that occur in adolescents 18 years and younger. Significant numbers of children in this age group develop depression symptoms. Current research indicates that a specific memory problem, known as overgeneral autobiographical memory (OGM), acts as a predictor for the future onset of depression among teenagers. People affected by overgeneral autobiographical memory remember details about their own lives in unusually broad or general terms and can’t recall some of the more specific memories that come easily to the average person.
Just Teen Moodiness Or Actually Depression?
Depression is a general term that can potentially apply to a number of diagnosable mental health problems, labeled collectively as depressive disorders. Most people use the term to refer to the most prominent depressive disorder, major depression. However, unless otherwise specified, it may also refer to conditions such as disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder or persistent depressive disorder (a chronic form of relatively low-level depression previously known as dysthymia).
Teenagers can develop the full gamut of depressive illnesses, and for the most part they experience the same types of symptoms—such as a hopeless or helpless outlook, sadness, thought impairment and altered eating or sleeping patterns—as their adult counterparts. However, they may also experience symptoms that are relatively unique to their age group, including declining academic performance, socially disruptive behavior and truancy or frequent classroom tardiness. Adolescents also frequently develop certain additional mental health problems in association with depression. Potential examples of these coexisting problems include substance use disorders, anxiety disorders and eating disorders.
Understanding An Overgeneral Autobiographical Memory
Mental health professionals use the term autobiographical memory to refer to the ability to remember specific details about the events and situations that you’ve experienced over the course of your lifetime. This type of memory provides perspective and helps improve your ability to accurately interpret the meaning of present-day events and situations. People affected by overgeneral autobiographical memory have an unusual tendency to avoid recalling specific autobiographical memories, and rely instead on larger-scale memories that cause them to consciously or unconsciously omit some of the details and subtleties of their past experiences.
OGM is not a physical or biological impairment in the brain’s memory processes. Instead, it is a tendency that gets established over time in affected individuals and acts as a screening mechanism against the recall of intense memories that could potentially produce unwanted or feared emotional reactions. People already diagnosed with a depressive illness often exhibit signs of overgeneral memory, and the presence of this type of memory can potentially act as a feedback loop that worsens depression’s overall effects. People diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also commonly exhibit signs of OGM.
How To Predict Teen Depression
In a study published in May 2012 in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers from University College London examined the effects of overgeneral autobiographical memory in a group of 277 children between the ages of 10 and 18. Each of these children had a known family-related risk for developing depression, but did not have a diagnosable depressive illness when the study began. The researchers used medical interviews to track OGM and depression risks in the study participants over a period of one year.
A significant number of the study’s participants developed depression within the study’s one-year window. After assessing their data, the researchers found that, when compared to their peers who were unaffected by overgeneral autobiographical memory, the participants affected by OGM had a clear tendency to develop diagnosable depression. In effect, the presence of OGM acted as a predictor of depression’s future onset. This finding held true even when the research team took other potential factors—such as relative IQ and age of the study participants and the severity of any eventual depression symptoms—into account.
During the course of their study, the University College London researchers also attempted to determine if overgeneral autobiographical memory in teenagers acts as a predictor for the future onset of anxiety disorders or a group of behavioral conditions called externalizing disorders (an unofficial term sometimes used to collectively describe attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder). They concluded that the presence of OGM does not predict the future onset of these additional mental health issues.