Are Depressed Teens Going Undiagnosed?

ByABC News via logo
October 9, 2002, 3:54 PM

Oct. 10 -- Since so many teens tend to get moody and uncommunicative while navigating through adolescence, it can be tough to tell if they are depressed.

The National Institutes of Mental Health estimates that 8 percent of adolescents and 2 percent of children (some as young as 4 years old) have symptoms of depression. While nearly 3 million adolescents suffer from depression, fewer than one in five get treatment. Depressed teens usually suffer for years before they are identified.

"It's one of the most difficult calls to make," Tipper Gore said on Good Morning America. "Teens are already struggling with puberty, peer pressure, self-identity, separation from family. It's hard for a parent or teacher or coach to diagnose them, but not for a health professional."

Signs of Teen Depression

In addition to the usual symptoms of depression seen in adults, there are specific symptoms to look for in teens. The symptoms specific to teens are: vague physical complaints such as headaches, frequent absences from school or a drop in school performance, "acting out" in episodes that include anger, shouting or crying; loss of interest in friends or hobbies; recklessness and impulsiveness.

Gore says there is a greater awareness of the problem of teen depression.

"It has always been there, but now we are better at recognizing, diagnosing and treating it," Gore said.

Most teen depression is likely related to lifestyle issues or family dynamics. In other cases, something might trigger a depressive episode in children who are predisposed to depression.

For instance, teens feel the same anxiety adults do since Sept. 11, Gore said. In addition, they are feeling typical teen emotions, like the pressure to succeed, and the fear of not measuring up.

A Family Concern

Both Gore and her mother have suffered through depression in the past. For Tipper Gore, her episode happened back in 1989, after her son, Al, then 6, was hit by a car. She went public about her battle with depression in 1999 as her husband was launching his presidential bid.