Young adolescents, depression and…the Titanic syndrome

In carrying out three fascinating studies which complete and respond to each other, Aurore Boulard has set to music, with original sounds, the factors and contexts which lead teenagers into depression. A manner of also better identifying worrying indicators and of ceasing to watch young people sink under? Doubtless the education system needs to be opened up more to the notion of wellbeing, still absent from preoccupations concerning our teenagers at school. Nonetheless certain of them are harassed or are experiencing difficult situations without being able to, as an adult can, project themselves into the future in changing their present. ‘In an institutional manner, and together with the teachers, it should be possible to think through the ways of living together at school,’ insists Aurore Boulard, who thus suggests that support groups should be set up within secondary schools on a regular basis.

Around the theme of teenager depression there are too many tunes which ring false and prevent things being heard. In her thesis, ‘From depressive mood to adolescent depression: statistics and narrativity’ (1), Aurore Boulard, Assistant at the University of Liège and a psychologist at the University Psychology and Logopedics Clinic, has taken up an orchestra conductor’s baton to better understand the form and substance of depression amongst teenagers. As a result she highlights important indicators which up until now have often been unrecognised or underestimated in young depressives. In revisiting the importance of peers, intimate friendship, exclusion, verbal violence as well as the role of parents, that of the age of puberty or what is revealed by the life stories or vocabulary used by young people, Aurore Boulard casts new light on this phenomenon. Reason, in the end, to consider it in quite another way…

It is estimated that 5 to 7% of teenagers experience a major depressive episode (MDE). Girls are twice as much affected as boys by these depressions, which in two thirds of cases are not medically treated, the psychologist reminds us. The risk? Witnessing the development of character disorders, school failures, dependencies or suicidal behaviour: in the three years following the diagnosis of MDE, 70% of young people make an attempt to commit suicide. Untreated depression can also become recurrent and chronic at adult age. It then presents itself in a more severe and incapacitating form than is the case for a later development of depression. Nevertheless depression remains little diagnosed during adolescence. And for good reason: confronted with it, people often get gets the symptoms wrong.

All wrong, or almost

As Professor Jean Dumas (University of Geneva, in Switzerland) says, in order to make a diagnosis amongst young people, people wrongly carry out a ‘cut and paste’ of the symptoms of depression in adults,’ says Aurore Boulard. ‘Yet for them they have neither the same expressions nor manifestations.’ Another factor is added to this label, falsified from the start: there exists a widespread idea according to which teenagers experience a crisis which pushes them to feel down in the dumps, to no longer let people know when they are going out, to no longer talk to their parents, run away, etc. It is often considered as a passing phase which will cease at the end of the crisis. ‘Of course no-one can deny that young people test their limits and those of their entourage or that they experience up and down emotions. But that should not allow us to forget that their also exists a heavier pathology which must not be confused with teen angst,’ stresses the psychologist.

Ado-suicide-©foruforeverBetter considering certain indicators – a drop in school results features prominently amongst them – could precisely allow us to make a difference better. In the same way, we should be better forewarned of the fact that amongst young people the symptoms of depression vary along with age. Around the age of 12 these symptoms are principally expressed by an ensemble of somatic complaints. Around 14-15 it is irritability which dominates. Around 18 it gives way to sorrow and suicide attempts,’ she points out. Few teenagers thus clearly express a complaint which is depressive in nature. On the other hand they experience an ensemble of heterogeneous symptoms, often dependent on each other, whilst a series of risk factors end up combining and leading them into depression.

(1) Doctoral thesis defended on December 14, 2012, before a jury consisting of Professors Jean-Marie Gauthier (supervisor), Michel Born (ULg), Etienne Quertemont (ULg), Luc Goossens (KUL) and Jean Dumas (University of Geneva).

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