An American study has shown that parents may not know their teenage children as well as they think they do. This results in depression going undiagnosed and increases the risk of suicide.
The study, conducted by a team from Columbia University in New York, found that 90% of the 900 parents interviewed said they would know if their teenage child were depressed or suicidal. In reality, however, two-thirds of depressed teens are not diagnosed and are left at risk of suicide.
Past statistics show that only a third of depressed adolescents are ever diagnosed by any adult, be it their parents, teacher or doctor.
Head of the research team, child psychiatrist Dr David Shaffer, estimated that four to five percent of adolescents are depressed. This means that at any one time in the US, 750 000 teenagers are depressed.
Of these, 500 000 teenagers try to take their lives and require medical attention, while 1 700 succeed annually.
Accidents claim the most teenage lives in the US, followed by murders and suicide.
A secretive disorder
A depressed teen often does not show obvious symptoms of his or her condition, so it is difficult for parents to tell if their child is suicidal or depressed. Shaffer’s team found that depressed people get “snappy” and can seem annoyed by anything that anybody says to them.
Instead of continuing to try and approach their child, parents tend to withdraw from them even though they wonder what’s making them so angry all the time. Parents may even become hostile in return.
Depressed teenagers don’t make diagnosis any easier as they try and hide their distress by locking themselves in their room and telling their parents that everything is okay.
Special screening test
The result of the study is a special free-of-charge screening test that will be made available to certain schools. The test, funded by private donors, includes an hour-long, self-administered questionnaire.
Researchers believe that a teenager will reveal more in a confidential, self-administered questionnaire than they will in an open interview.
The survey was tested out on 640 teenagers of whom 148 were diagnosed with depression. Forty of these depressed teenagers were suicidal. The test missed seven adolescents who were later diagnosed as suicidal.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.