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Youth depression increased during pandemic, says study

Study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal said more detection and treatment for depression is required at younger ages

With depression becoming so common among adolescents in Canada, concern has been raised about why it is not getting the attention or treatment that it deserves, according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ)

The study was authored by Daphne J. Korczak, Clara Westwell-Roper and Roberto Sassi, representing the departments of psychiatry at the Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto; and the department of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia.

The report was carried out using data from a number of studies and controlled trials of cohort studies that addressed aspects of the diagnosis or management of major depressive disorder or persistent depressive disorder among children and adolescents aged 18 years or younger, said the CMAJ report. 

One of the conclusions of the study said more research is needed to "address important clinical questions in the detection and treatment of adolescent depression.”

The authors also wrote that depression is common among adolescents in Canada and has the potential to negatively affect the long-term function and quality of life. Despite that, depression among youth is undetected and untreated in many cases.

"Depression is common, a leading cause of disability and a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. Although more than 40 per cent of people with depression experience onset before adulthood, depression remains undetected in many adolescents in Canada, and most are untreated," the authors wrote.

The study also said that the onset of depression before adulthood is associated with greater illness severity in adulthood (i.e., increased number of episodes, hospital admissions and risk of self-harm and suicide), poorer physical health outcomes (including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease) and social and occupational outcomes.

Another finding in the report was the prevalence of depression among adolescents increased with age. The authors wrote that before the COVID-19 pandemic, the prevalence of major depressive disorder (MDD) among adolescents was reported to be about 13 to 15 per cent.  

The authors also said that a recent meta-analysis found that around one in four young people had clinically significant depressive symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic, with higher rates associated with older age and female sex; it also found the prevalence of symptoms to be higher later during the pandemic period.

The study said given that depression is a common but treatable condition, the medical community needs to be more responsive.

"Primary care physicians and pediatricians are well positioned to support the assessment and first-line management of depression in this group, helping patients to regain their health and function. Future research that addresses important clinical questions in the detection and treatment of adolescent depression is needed," said the study. 

The full text of the CMAJ study can be found online here.

Len Gillis writes about health care issues as well as the mining industry for

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Len Gillis

About the Author: Len Gillis

Graduating from the Journalism program at Canadore College in the 1970s, Gillis has spent most of his career reporting on news events across Northern Ontario with several radio, television and newspaper companies. He also spent time as a hardrock miner.
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