Depression in Adolescents: Can CBT Help

Spotting the signs of depression in adolescents and young adults is difficult. This is a tumultuous period where both biological, physiological, and psychological developments can clash together.

Depression in young adults can be easily masked by our own narrow assumptions of what to expect from teenage behaviours or moods; It’s all ‘just growing pains’ or a ‘phase someone is going through’. Bring this and other factors together and it’s no wonder treating depression in adolescents can be difficult.

According to a BBC report in recent times, one in four young women suffers from a mental health problem. With the underfunding that mental health services suffer from in the UK, there are sometimes very few places a young individual can turn which provides the support and help they need.

That’s highlighted by the fact that only 30% of depressed teens are receiving any treatment at all.  With the increasing challenges that state-funded mental health services experience, difficulties in delivering treatment are often further compounded by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHs), too often being withdrawn for those reaching their late teens and early adulthood.

Individuals may be set adrift if they don’t have the support of either their family or access to suitable treatment such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).

Depression, the Invisible Illness

The statistics surrounding depression and other mental health problems for young adults present a worrying picture and nothing much has changed over the last few decades.

  • The vast majority of people who take their own lives, according to the evidence, have suffered from some form of depression.
  • An Aware Report in 2004, revealed that a fifth of adolescents experience at least one episode of depression as they are growing up.
  • This is genetically more likely if an individual has a parent who suffers from similar mental health problems.
  • Another parent suffering from depression might also lead to discord and lack of family support when a young adult suddenly develops issues of their own.

It’s long been understood that environmental factors also have a causal effect on depression (Pritchard, 1995). Those who work in CAMHs have a term for this: inhospitable home environment.

It’s a catchall term and can range from parents rejecting or not supporting a child to lack of warmth in the family environment.

With the underfunding that mental health services suffer from in the UK, there are sometimes very few places a young individual can turn which provides the support and help they need. That’s highlighted by the fact that only 30% of depressed teens (pls. see notes) are receiving any treatment at all.

The Symptoms and Causes of Depression in Adolescents

Teens and young adults can be prone to negative thoughts; these might include themes of guilt and hopelessness. There is a lot of pressure on the young today, not least coping with social media, the stress of school and ever more testing, as well as the traditional family environment.

Where it becomes a problem is when those feelings are so ingrained that there seems no way out for the individual.

The signs of depression are wide-ranging. A young adult might feel sad or hopeless. They may have low esteem or have started abusing substances such as drugs or alcohol. There could be physical manifestations such as headaches or other health problems. There might be unexpected problems at school or home. Some manifestations of depression are easy to recognise, others not so.

In more severe cases, young adults may consider suicide as a way out of their depression. Their thoughts and mental anguish become over-dominant in their daily life; it can become difficult to see a way out.

Cognitive behavioural therapists understand that young adults with depression also suffer from tunnel vision. It prevents them from finding solutions to their problems. This is something that CBT looks to address by getting the individual to talk through their issues and find ways to move forward.

Identity and Sexuality and Depression

Teenage years and young adulthood are certainly a time when we look to find our place in the world. This is more often nurtured away from the family environment. It’s where we develop stronger friendships and ideas, beliefs and start to play the roles that will define us in adult life.

Many young adults struggle with self-image during this period; questioning if they are different from their friends, or perceiving peer groups to be more successful.

It seems even harder nowadays when we have social media and other entertainment that are so full of ‘perfect’ people. Young adults become scared of rejection, experience feelings of failure and are unable to cope with the idea they may be different in some way.

An individual who has not come to terms with their sexuality, for instance, could well experience isolation and ridicule because of it. Rejection by peers in young adults has numerous causes, including taste in clothes, music, and simply not fitting in.

There’s the challenge of first love and a possible break-up of a relationship. This is a big risk factor in developing depression, particularly for young males.

Research from a 1998 Aware Report showed the conflict between individuals was seen as a primary factor in 70% of suicides. The most common was that between partners. The breakup of a relationship may lead to emotional rejection and insecurity. If both were part of a social group, it could mean the isolation of one of the individuals.

Drug and Alcohol Abuse and Depression

One factor that leads to deeper depression in young adults is drug or alcohol abuse. This causes a spiralling effect, preventing an individual from ‘seeing the woods from the trees’. A person may feel depressed, drink to take the edge off their pain or start to use drugs. This could mean they deflect the depression, but many end up doing nothing about their underlying issues. Their drug and alcohol use sustains them into early adulthood and beyond until something catastrophic happens.

Individuals who don’t get a specific diagnosis and a specific treatment could end up suffering from enduring low self-esteem, something that follows them into later life. Their thinking is restricted because of the use of alcohol, for example. It becomes the go-to solution when they are feeling bad and have a depressive episode.

The Role of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

CBT is also known as ‘talking’ therapy and has been clinically proven to be successful in treating those with mental health conditions such as depression, particularly young adults.

Getting a proper diagnosis and treatment is important if you are suffering from depression or any other psychological problem. The major challenge for many is admitting there is a problem in the first place. Sitting down with a qualified CBT therapist gives you the opportunity to talk through the various issues that you are facing and formulate solutions that work for you.

The majority of people with depression find there is an improvement once they start undertaking a talking therapy like CBT. If you’d like to find out more, our CBT therapists operate in London and around the UK, and they are here to help.

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