Most teenagers who are plagued by short bouts of depression and anxiety in adolescence will fully recover by adulthood, a study has found.
Health experts said the findings will be a relief for parents concerned that common mood disorders could persist in the long term. The study of almost 2000 Australians, published in The Lancet, found almost a third of boys and 54 per cent of girls aged 15 to 18 experienced common mental disorders in their teenage years.
But by their late 20s, most teens who experienced anxiety that lasted for less than six months had no symptoms in later life. ”For about 65 per cent of boys and half of the girls, it’s a phase limited to teenage years,” said Professor George Patton, lead author and professor of adolescent health research at the University of Melbourne.
The progress may be because of ”changes in their lives, moving out of home, starting work or just becoming emotionally mature,” Professor Patton said.
For Bronwyn Collins, who has battled anxiety and depression since she was 15, seeking help early and staying ”tuned in” to symptoms was crucial in recovery.
”For most of my teens I kept it hidden and masked my dark thoughts from other people,” said Ms Collins, now a youth ambassador for beyondblue in Melbourne. ”I thought it was just hormones so it kind of flew under the radar.”
It was only when anxiety started to dictate her life – and her school marks plummeted – that she sought help. ”I was very proactive. I saw a doctor, got counselling, exercised and started eating well,” she said.
Now 24, Ms Collins has had no symptoms of depression for almost three years.
Professor Patton said it was ”very common” for teenagers to have mood disorders such as ”unhappiness, irritability, sleep disturbances and often withdrawing from social circles”.
”All the evidence points towards this generation having a higher rate of depression than we’ve ever seen before,” he said.
The study, by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, followed teenagers from 1992 to 2008, assessing common mental disorders at five points from the age of 15 to 29.
”During at least one point of assessment, these kids reported significant symptoms at a level that GPs would be concerned about,” Professor Patton said. ”The bad news for girls is these problems tend to be more persistent. This could be because of a biological vulnerability but most of these episodes tend to be triggered by problems with peers, academic failure, conflicts at home and bullying.”
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This article first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald on 15 January, 2014.