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Teen Depression: Simply a “Younger” Version of Adult Depression?

Article Summary

Elizabeth Wagner's 2008 article, “Depressed Like You: The Myth of Teen Angst”, commences with Wagner's observation of the enormity of depression as a global concern, or certainly as a significant issue in American life. She then leads the way to what will be the focus of her article, which centers on the striking prevalence of depression in teens, and how this appears to carry through in adult statistics. This elicits the thrust of her interest; Wagner seeks to determine how much of what is typically considered ordinary, teen “angst is in fact serious depression, and how much of this is actually related to adolescence. Through better assessing of the teenage brain in this regard, Wagner asserts, must evolve a better understanding of depression in all men and women.

Turning substantially to studies conducted by the Oregon Research Institute, the author conveys this as evidence that teen and adult depression are more closely linked than has been suspected. Then, turning to work done at the University of Texas, Wagner further corroborates these findings, as the latter research demonstrates further similarities between teen and adult depression in regard to the efficacy of treatments. Contrary evidence is then presented, which suggests that teens do indeed suffer from periods of depression clearly linked to adolescence, as the depression often is not present when the teen years are left. This examination of various studies is followed by a discussion of how the teen brain evolves, citing research findings from the National Institute for Mental Health. Wagner concludes by affirming that, whether teen depression is driven by adolescent issues, or is more the onset of adult depression, this factor of it as the earliest indication of the disorder renders extensive study of teen depression an urgent matter.

The Article's Impact and Value

In terms of significant impact in the field of neuropsychology, Wagner's article does virtually nothing to contribute to existing knowledge. In the author's defense, no claims are made by her that such an undertaking is a part of her agenda; rather, she sets out to present, and consequently juxtapose, some of the latest research on the subject. This being her purpose, then, it is reasonable to evaluate how successful Wagner is in producing new insights and/or previously unexplored interpretations from the data employed. In this regard, Wagner's achievement appears to be, at best, modest, and this is at least partially due to the fact that her article is too brief to do justice to the ideas entertained within it.

It seems, in fact, that Wagner is exploring the possibilities within the field of teen depression as she goes along. This creates for the reader no clear sense of agenda or purpose within the article itself, Wagner's introduction notwithstanding. The initial emphasis, for example, appears to be on depression as a disorder that, ordinary conceptions aside, afflicts adults and teens at similar rates. This introduction does contain the caveat that there is evidence of a specifically adolescent depression, but this is not stressed as particularly relevant. More crucially, Wagner concludes her opening in a self-contradictory way. That is, after noting that most adults suffering from depression begin to exhibits symptoms by age fourteen, she issues her rallying cry that efforts are needed to stop teenage depression before it starts. As the issue just identified is that of a depression not defined by age, it is confusing and unhelpful that Wagner chooses to assign this designation to the core problem.

Teen depression is, as the evidence Wagner cites supports, a difficult and complex issue. It is inescapable that many teen problems, including depressive states, are mutually inclusive and exponentially fueled. As is common knowledge, the adolescent physicality is changing, and this induces various and sometimes confounding emotional states in even the most well-adjusted teens. Moreover, and not conveyed by Wagner in her citing of her selected research, methodologies of adolescent research itself are sometimes questionable. That is, adult depression is typically studied employing some form of interview process; with teens, it is usually conducted more as a self-reported checklist. Given the scope of emotional, physical, and mental changes the adolescent undergoes, it is reasonable to anticipate a greatly subjective response. Such responses may properly serve in obtaining actual feelings about depression from teens, but they cannot relate how temporal these feelings may be, as hyperbole is a typical aspect of adolescent reaction. In other words, to the teen responding to a survey, the mild state of depression felt briefly may be expressed as both extreme and ongoing. Wagner must acknowledge that, in assessing actual depression in teens, a far more strict methodology must be employed, or she must reveal this to have been the case in the studies she cites.

The ambiguity of Wagner's article may well be a result of a lack of professionalism in the writer. For example, the article opens with: “From a distance depression can seem like no big deal. After all, who doesn't feel a little down in the dumps sometimes?” This is a very casual approach for any piece attempting to evince academic integrity, and it does not go far in instilling confidence in the reader as to the author's scholarship. It also, unfortunately, betrays the kind of careless structure abetting the ambiguity, or lack of real direction, in the article.

Depression is indeed an enormous and serious issue in the world, and an abundance of existing research by no means precludes the need for more. As Wagner somewhat indicates, there is an important correlation between adults and teen within the subject, but the focus should be directed toward the genuine roots of depression not associated with typical teen problems. In other words, if, as Wagner asserts, most adults suffering from depression begin to do so in adolescence, the wisest course would be to isolate these early depressive factors away from the “angst” concerns associated with teens, and often misinterpreted as clinical depression.