Why depression is so common in teenagers?

Why depression is so common in teenagers?

Why depression is so common in teenagers?_Ichhori.com


Depression is the most common mental disorder that has increased in the recent decades. Feeling dumb, being out of mood, stressed out, frustration, unhappiness and dissatisfaction are all common experiences of depression. However, adolescents are at higher risk to develop depression than younger children. Depression in teenagers can lead to social and educational impairment and contributes to a major risk factor for suicide and substance misuse. Thus, predicting and preventing this mental health disorder is extremely important. 


However, one needs to read the headlines to notice and then know, the toll the last year has taken on adolescent (teenagers) mental health. Along with the stress of pandemic impacting their well-being and parents left ensure how to help teenagers, the search for more timely diagnoses and effective treatments takes on new urgency. One of the main reasons of teenager vulnerability in depression is their incomplete skills and sensitive conditions. However, the lack of skills causes the lack of protecting teenagers against damages especially depression. 


For years, psychiatry has focused on “mood” as one of the main reason and culprit in depression. Though, researchers have started to also speculate that motivation is another factor which is just as important


An extensive study was conducted by Columbia university department of psychiatry researchers and funded by Morgan Stanley. They are looking at the brain along with smartphone habits to try and determine how and why adolescents experience this increasingly prevalent mental illness know as ‘depression’. 


Two well-known professors are Randy P. Auerbach who is a PhD associate professor and DaviPagliaccio who is also a PhD assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the Columbia University. They both are co-leading a study that scrutinize at the role that dopamine, which is linked or connected to motivation, may play in depression. 


According to some reports, in pre-pandemic a significant portion of U.S teenagers were already struggling and living with depression. “About 20% of teenagers will experience a depressive episode by age 18, and almost 80% of individuals who experience depression onset in adolescence will have(experienceanother episode within five years” says Auerbach. 


Howeverin order to address these disturbing figures, Pagliaccio and Auerbach have recently launched an ambitious and innovative project that aims to identify brain areas that contribute to the unfolding of depression symptoms as well as predict relapse. If successfulthis research could change how depression is diagnosed and treated in adolescents. 


In order to address anxiety, depression, stress and other mental health issues in children and young adults an initiative has been invented by the Morgan Stanley Foundation known as “Morgan Stanley Alliance for Children’s Mental Health” and has partnered with the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry at the Vaglelos College of Physicians and Surgeons to facilitate such ground-breaking research.


As mental health challenges amongst children and teenagers are becoming more widespread and more urgent, we firmly believe there is not only an opportunity, but a duty or commitment for the private sector to play a critical role in improving children’s mental health


The importance of dopamine 


Auerbach and Pagliaccio study shift the focus from one key neurotransmitterserotonin to another that is dopamine. However, most people commonly identify the former that is dopamine with depression due to the popularity of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as fluoxetine and sertraline as they are a class of antidepressants that help regulate moods. 


But some mental health experts believe that dopamine which is the same neurotransmitter your brain produces when you indulge in your favourite ice-cream or win at blackjack, are least as important when it comes to understanding and managing(coping) depression. 


The so-called dopamine posits that reduced dopamine activity in the brain is closely linked to lack of motivation and self-esteem, which is a hallmark of depression. One should note that antidepressants including those that primarily target other neurotransmitters like serotonin or norepinephrine, seem to work, at least in part, by regulating dopamine activity. 


However, measuring dopamine levels can be tough and hard. It requires invasive procedures such as lumbar puncturesto extract spinal fluid to test for the chemical. Although, Auerbach and Pagliaccio believe that they may have a solution. Neurotransmitters fire to an area of the brain called the midbrain, which influences motivated behaviour. Thus, every time they fire, they discard waste,” Auerbach explains. In the case of dopamine, that by product is neuromelanin. A critical goal of their study is to show that neuromelanin, a brain pigment that can be easily measured using non-invasive imaging tests, is a reliable substitute for the presence of dopamine. The study will use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure neuromelanin levels in teenagers when the study begins and at various predetermined intervals throughout the year.


Using smartphone data to detect depression 


The study has started enrolling participants in two groups. One group will include 60 teenagers with at least one depressive episode defined as meeting the diagnostic criteria for clinical depression for at least two weeks) but are currently in remission. The other group will comprise 60 adolescents with no personal history of depression.

While parents are usually concerned and worried about how much time teens spend on their smartphones, these devices will play a major role in collecting study data beyond the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). However, participants in the study will use an application called Effortless Assessment of Risk States (EARS). They have to download this app in their personal smartphones, to answer questions periodically about the state of their mental well-being. The EARS app is more functional in many other areas such as it would also collect passive data that will provide researchers with objective information about their daily habits.


It allows us to record and show what adolescents are doing every day,” says Auerbach. He also elucidate that accelerometry data will disclose how physically active participants are and geolocation data will provide insights about where and how they spend most of their time. However the app is very useful for other dimensions as well such as it scans for patterns of words and phrases used while texting. Auerbach anticipate that this information which the participants consent to share will lead to more objective ways to detect emerging depression, and that the final results, expected in 2022, might pave the way for more effective treatments. That might include app-based therapies to nudge teens to tweak certain habits (like sleep more or see friends more often) if they seem to be deviate towards a depressive episodesomething parents aren’t always aware of.


In conclusion, these findings might also lay the groundwork for new antidepressants that directly target dopamine.






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