A recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that the chief cause of teenage illness and disability is depression. While that information alone is quite troubling, it is even more so in the wake of news that shows suicide is the third leading cause of death in adolescents, trailing only behind car accidents and deaths from HIV/AIDS.
Also surfacing is news that the ongoing link reported by the media between bullying – cyberbullying or otherwise – and suicide, and this has some mental health advocates on high alert status. Dr. Jitender Sareen, a psychiatrist at the University of Manitoba, says that in the media putting the spin that bullying or cyberbullying has increased the numbers of suicides, there is now a lack of focus on any underlying mental health problems. It also does not appear to matter where the teens live; according to the WHO report, symptoms of depression appeared to start at around age 14 for half of those who reported suffering with depression regardless of where the sufferer lives.
That news could prove to be incredibly helpful; connecting teens with the mental health help they need could also help prevent the million-plus deaths that are occurring. However, given suicide comes third on the WHO list of top causes of deaths – deaths from HIV/AIDS and from automobile accidents are ahead – access to mental health services could be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to helping teens cope. The WHO report suggests that, among other potential solutions, greater alcohol regulation for teens could help. Certainly, the connection between alcohol use (and abuse) and depression is not unknown, and teens have been known to drink alcohol prior to meeting the legal drinking age. Greater alcohol regulation in countries that do not have that for teens could help those who struggle with depression.
In acknowledging that depression is the chief cause of teenage illness, the World Health Organization has supported an idea that more needs to be done in terms of early intervention into cases of depression, particularly among teens. Access to resources could be key in helping those who struggle with depression, as there are many teens who may not be fully aware of the resources at their disposal. In addition, there are those teens who may not want to discuss their depression with their parents.
Most troubling in the WHO report could be findings that only one-quarter of those countries surveyed actually have services in place that actually deal with teenage mental health issues. Most focus solely on reproductive or sexual health, and roughly a third focus on tobacco and alcohol issues among the adolescent set. Depression is becoming increasingly prevalent among adolescents, contributing to the majority of illnesses they experience on a regular basis and to the possibility of accidents. The WHO report clearly illustrates that improved access to resources devoted to helping teens and parents helping teens deal with depression could go a long way towards helping those suffering with the condition. Perhaps the stigma that continues to be associated with depression could also then decline.
By Christina St-Jean