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Ohio Researchers Look For Causes Of Adolescent Depression.

Diagnosis of depression among adolescents is rising. Studies indicate 1 in 8 US adolescents may be depressed at any time and chronic depression can affect children as young as 3 years old. WOSU's Debbie Holmes reports on how patients and doctors are treating the illness.

24 year old Leslie Coccia remembers feeling isolated and self conscious as a middle schooler. Her feelings of isolation stayed with her through high school and college. "A lot of my obsessions that I talk to you about when I would write things down in a journal a lot of it would have to do with looking at other girls and comparing my body to them." Says Coccia.

Leslie was self conscious partly because she has cerebral palsy. Her right side is weaker and she walks with a limp.

"And people can be around you with you and telling you you're fine and you're going to be fine, but whatever it is that is a combination of the chemicals in your brain with the issues you're already trying to work out anyway. Coccia says. You can be up here and just fall and it's horrible."

Right now Leslie spends her days at home while her parents work. She wants to be a writer. Betsy Coccia a high school Special Ed teacher suspected her daughter might have been clinically depressed.

"She really never threatened to kill herself she didn't do that. But, she was saying things like I don't know why I'm here. And those are red flags and I understand that because I work with kids like that."

Coccia says her daughter saw a psychologist for several years and took antidepressants. She stopped taking the meds because they numbed her emotions. Leslie learned to be more aware of what situations arouse her negative feelings and to meditate.

Psychologist, Barbara Mackinaw-Coons says more attention in the past 10 years on adolescent depression may have led to more diagnoses. She describes what parents should be aware of.

"We know that some moodiness in adolescence is normal. But, if you're seeing associated symptoms, social withdrawal, change in sleeping habits, change in appetite, self-esteem issues, energy level has changed. If you're seeing several of those issues, that's when you should start to be concerned." Says Mackinaw-Coons.

Mackinaw-Coons says for mild to moderate depression in adolescents, experts recommend psychosocial treatments.

"Cognitive behavioral therapy the goal is to teach the adolescent skills. So, you're going to work on healthy thinking skills. That's where the cognitive part of that comes in. We know that depressed adolescents tend to think very negatively. They tend to misinterpret social situations. So try to teach them to think in a healthier way."

Mackinaw-Coons adds anti-depressants may be necessary for more severe depression and can be effective in up to 80 percent of adolescents treated.

Experts are also watching the link between depression and another frequently diagnosed condition in adolescents - ADHD.

For children suffering with ADHD, studies show depression can increase if they are not treated with stimulants like Ritalin. Chief of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Dr. Daniel Coury.

"What we have learned about ADHD over the last few years is that it's more common for ADHD to be accompanied by another psychiatric problem like depression or anxiety or oppositional behavior then for a child to simply have ADHD alone." Says Coury.

OSU Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, Dr. L. Eugene Arnold is involved in a long-time study looking at children with ADHD Arnold says ADHD is an illness that can cause patients to be more depressed.

"If you say you have ADHD and possibly learning disorder with it, so you're not able to succeed in school, you're going to get depressed naturally. If you don't get depressed you just don't understand the situation, because you know that's your work as a youngster as a child and adolescent, you need to succeed in school."

Professor Arnold says the study shows better treatments are needed for adolescents suffering with depression, although antidepressants can be helpful.

Debbie Holmes WOSU News

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.