The extent of the problem:

 Research reveals that 3% of Australians aged between 3 and 16 years have a depressive disorder each year. Major depression affects an estimated 8% of Australian teenagers, with about 60% experiencing suicidal ideas and up to 35% making a suicide attempt. The distressing problem of suicide is the second most common cause of death in this age group. Females attempt suicide about 14 times more than males, but males complete suicide 4 times more often. It is a national concern and needs to be taken very seriously in children. The incidence of depression increases markedly after puberty, especially in females. 

Types of depressive disorders 

There is a whole range of types of depression varying from sadness to feeling blue or down in the dumps to the extreme sadness and hopelessness of major depression. 

The main types of depression are:

  • Depressed mood—feeling sad or blue is a minor, virtually normal, state that we get from time to time, but we still manage to carry on with life. 
  • Dysthymia—a moderate state of depression in which mood is persistently low so that it interferes with a person’s ability to function normally in their life, including study and enjoyment.
  • Major depression—the so-called ‘black dog’ or ‘black hole’; this is a serious illness that leads to a dysfunctional life with a breakdown of the basic drives, namely energy, eating, sleeping, sex, and enjoyment. These people are at risk of suicide.

What are the symptoms and signs of major depression? 

The following are typical characteristics: 

  • Persistent sadness 
  • Severe sleeping problems 
  • Eating disorders and weight changes
  • Apathy towards friends, school, and family
  • Sense of worthlessness 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Deterioration in school performance 
  • Crying and emotional ups and downs 
  • Complaints about physical symptoms such as headache 
  • Persistent boredom and low energy 
  • Acting out and risk-taking behavior
  •  Reoccupation with death and dying 
  • Suicide attempts (called para suicide). 

Risk factors

  • Depression in a close relative 
  • Major life stress 
  • Recurrent stresses 
  • Bullying
  • Broken relationship 
  • Child abuse
  • Family break-up 
  • Substance abuse (e.g., alcohol, drugs) 
  • Social isolation—due to race or sexuality 
  • Sexual maladjustment 
  • School failure 
  • Health problems
  • Unemployment

How to help a depressed teenager:

  • Listen to them and be alert to what they are saying and not saying. 
  • Treat them with respect. 
  • Take their problems and depression seriously. 
  • Offer unconditional love and support.
  • Be available to help when requested. 
  • Be flexible and consistent.
  • Encourage them to express their true feelings.
  • Encourage them to do things that they enjoy. 

Advice for parents, carers, and friends

Follow the above guidelines. Encourage your child to get help without nagging or being judgmental (this includes talking things over with friends and people he or she is close to, respects, and relates to). Ask people close to you for advice and support. Do not cling to your child or show too much concern. Look closely at your own management style and skills and ask yourself whether you could improve or alter your approach. Take any talk about self-harm, including suicide, very seriously, and make sure your child’s environment is safe. 

Professional support

Ask your Psychiatrist and Psychologist for help and, if possible, encourage your child to see that it would be in his or her best interests to get help. The excellent treatments available include counseling and antidepressant medication, if necessary.


  • Richard Carlson, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Hyperion, NewYork, 1997. 
  • Murtagh’s patient education, sixth edition © mcgraw-hill
  • Ainslie Meares, Life Without Stress, Penguin Books, Melbourne, 1991. 
  • Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Living, Vermilion, London, 1996.

Disclaimer: All contents on this site are for general information and in no circumstances information be substituted for professional advice from the relevant healthcare professional, Writer does not take responsibility of any damage done by the misuse or use of the information.