Depression turns generation gap into a chasm

Adolescents and their parents quite often disagree. When opinions differ over fashion, music and television programs, there is no real cause for concern, but you cant say that about disease. Clinical depression in adolescents is an alarming illness, made much more so by the finding that adolescents and their parents often disagree about the extent of the problem; or even whether there is a problem at all.

Dr Michael Sawyer is in no such doubt about the problems posed by adolescent depression. "Adolescent depression is a major health problem," he said. Dr Sawyer, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Adelaide University, is one of the authors of The Mental Health of Young People in Australia, a report arising from the Child and Adolescent Component of the National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, which was funded by the Commonwealth Government.

The report was released in October 2000, and contained much new information about the mental health problems that affect some 14% of Australian children and adolescents. Dr Sawyer described results in the area of adolescent depression at a national seminar, BLUEPRINT: a national response to depression in Canberra from 28 Feb to 1 March 2001.

Structured interviews with those who care for adolescents (usually their parents) produced an estimate that 4.8% of adolescents suffer from clinical depression. That figure is consistent with other assessments, suggesting that in Australia nearly 61,000 adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 suffer from depression.

But parent reports and adolescent reports produced different results. When adolescents themselves were surveyed, 12.1% of them claimed to suffer from depression, but the great majority (88%) of these adolescents were not identified as depressed by their parents.

The reverse was also true. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of adolescents whose parents reported them as having clinical depression did not report themselves as being dep

Contact: Dr Michael Sawyer
Adelaide University

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