25% of young people aged 16-24 experience mental health problems
75% of young people hospitalised in 2007-2008 was due to mental and behavioural disorders
30,706 young people were prescribed antidepressants in 2008*

The growing pressures associated with teenage years is increasing and taking its toll on the young people of today;  life is complicated and life style choices challenging.

There seems to be 4 main areas which affect adolescents; anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and eating disorders, although they are not medically linked they often have similar symptoms.

The growth of mental health issues among the young has seen 30,000 families a year affected. It is clear that the stigma that goes with mental health needs to be dropped in favour of validating and helping teenagers with the issues they are now facing.

Adolescent psychologist, author of “Surviving Adolescents” and Generation Next speaker, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says that the most important thing for a parent to remember is to keep the lines of communication open on all levels especially emotionally, “if children and adolescents feel loved within the family, that there is a place for them at home, they may still push boundaries but their risk-taking will be less hazardous. So rather than just monitoring their behaviour, keep tabs on their emotional life. Look for changes away from a familiar or predictable pattern of behaviour.”

Dr Carr-Gregg points out several warning signs to watch out for:
Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying
Gloomy clothing, writing and music
Poor hygiene and grooming
Decreased interest in doing ‘stuff’
Persistent boredom and or low energy
Social isolation
Guilt and low self-esteem
Increased irritability, anger or hostility
Disruptive behaviour at school
Alcohol and drug abuse

If the current movement continues then 20% of adolescents will have experienced depression by the age of 18, and yet many of them will not seek medical help for their condition.

The practice of helping  young people deal with their mental illness using medication grew in the 1990’s. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare publication Australia’s Health 2010, published by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, this trend has continued to grow with 30,706 young people under 18 years of age being prescribed with antidepressants in the 12 months to June 2008. In the same period, 4,000 children under 10 years of age were also given mood-stabilising drugs, with a staggering 500 of them under the age of 5 years old.

Research has shown that antidepressant medication (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – SSRI) can help stabilise children over the age of 12 years old. It is most effective when used in conjunction with other treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy as part of an overall mental health plan.

Many parents feel they have failed if their child resorts to medication, however Steve Hambleton,  Australian Medical Association vice president said “there is a whole lot of resistance from parents and the individual but it doesn’t mean you have failed or you should give up,”  he added “it can be a useful part of the clinical regime.”

Kids & Co.  set up by clinical psychologist Anna Cohen offers psychological assessments and a treatment service to adolescents and their families who are experiencing difficulties. Ms Cohen said “we really believe there is a place for medication for teenagers, but not for all teenagers. If we have a chemical change on our brain, the medication puts that back into a healthy balance.”

She added “the problem is, a lot of parents have heard lots of horror stories about kids on medication and there’s often a comment made to me that young people on antidepressants are more likely to suicide – but that is not the case. There is a huge stigma attached to it. It’s terrifying to acknowledge that your young person is depressed.”

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha
Source: Sunday Telegraph

* Australian Institute of Health and Welfare publication Australia’s Health 2010, Australian Department of Health and Ageing