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Psychosocial Determinants of Depression in Teenagers


Teenage depression is a grave mental health problem that results in loss of attention in teenage activities and being engulfed by a sad feeling. Teenage depression is a major problem worldwide with fatal effects on adolescents.  Several teenagers are thought to commit suicide due to depression each year over some ‘small issues’ that can be easily resolved. Depression can be caused by a number of different factors which can harm a teenager’s reasoning capability. This is because teenage suicide and adult suicide differ in some important ways: while adults are likely to complete suicide attempts by planning them more carefully due to overwhelming causes like terminal diseases or serious debt, teenage suicides can occur over some very small issues. Depression in teenagers is mainly caused by exposure to stressful events like breaking up with a boyfriend/girlfriend or arguing with a parent, dysfunctional family relationships overarching expectations, peer group pressure, substance abuse, and social media and inability to keep up with good time management skills. Consequences of teenage depression can be harmful, severe and sometimes fatal. Depression among these youngsters can also be explained through genetic explanation and hence hereditary. It is only therefore important that the government enacts policies that are aimed at eliminating inequality among teenagers while they are in school. Parents should also be educated on the depression issue to help them monitor their young ones and take appropriate measures if they suspect their kids may be depressed.

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Psychosocial Determinants of Depression in Teenagers


Depression is one of the major health challenges facing teenagers today. In fact depression is thought to be a crucial risk factor for teenage suicide not to mention that it poses other risks in the lives of adolescents. More importantly, depression among teenagers contributes significantly towards educational and social impairments. These include school dropout, substance abuse, and obesity among others. By definition, depression encompasses a cluster of symptoms characterized by associated impairments. Such impairments may vary from one person to another and depending with the underlying factors. They include negative emotional changes, loss of self-esteem, dejection and mood disorders among others especially among adolescents. In studying depression among teenagers, various questions arise like why is depression among teenagers present a public health problem? What factors contribute to the onset of depression among adolescents? How well equipped are adolescents in fighting depression? What are the best intervention measures in fighting depression among the adolescents? These among other questions beg for additional research into the problem of depression among teenagers. Whilst depression is a multifactorial health problem, psychological and social factors are cited as the most prevalent ones in the development and persistence of depression among teenagers. 

It is well accepted that there is connection between depression in teenagers and environmental factors such as trauma, chronic adversity including bullying, family discord and maltreatment among others. It is worth noting from the onset that exposure to environmental factors do not always culminate into development of depression among teenagers. Nevertheless, this exposure according to Thapar, Stephan, Daniel and Ajay increases the risk especially for those who are genetically disposed to the health condition. According to Steptoe, psychosocial factors that contributes to high risk of depression among teenagers encompasses general factors at human society level and which are related to “…social structure and social processes that impinge on the individual”. Other factors include meanings and individual-level processes that influence a person’s mental state. Arguably, much of the available information on psychosocial factors leading to depression among teenagers relates to broader categories like mental disorder and whose one of their major symptom is depression.

Exposure to Stressful Events

In most cases, exposure to stressful situation does not necessarily result in the development of depression among teenagers. Nevertheless, exposure to stressful events such as loss of a close family member or an accident has been closely linked to the onset of depression. Still, as Thapar, Stephan, Daniel and Ajay postulates, exposure to such events is not a strong factor behind recurrence episodes of depression especially among adolescents. Perhaps this is because as they move on with their years, adolescents have a higher capacity to forget these events and focus on new experiences. Still exposure to stressing situations can have a long lasting effect on an individual, increasing the risk of anxiety, mood disorders and other health related risks during later stages of development. The risk of developing depression due to exposure to stressful situation has been found to be gender related as well as dependent on the number of negative events that one is exposed to. Exposure to multiple stressful events increases the risk of developing depression while girls have been noted to be more susceptible to the risk of developing depression as compared with boys. This could be as a result of girl’s help-seeking behavior, their emotional predisposition and the feeling of alienation from the main society in regard to gender roles and behavioral expectations. Overall however, there is a general agreement that exposure to stressful situations increases the risk of developing depression among teenagers.

According to Peacock, teenagers are susceptible to commit suicide over small issues. Issues that these teenagers feel overwhelmed about can cause them to commit suicide. The teenagers may want to escape such stressful events and stop any negative thoughts and feelings. Issues like teenage female pregnancy or failing can cause them to commit suicide because they fear their parents’ reaction. The reason is that these teenagers have not lived long enough to know that these are temporary problems. They lack problem solving skills that may help them cope with these. Unlike adults, teenagers can react to depression by committing suicide.

Dysfunctional Family Relationships

Changes in social structures especially the family can increase the risk of developing depression among teenagers. As compared with traditional societies where there was more cohesion and interaction between members and different units, modern society is marked with individuality and degrading social units. Of more importance here is the family as a unit of the society. Previously, family was considered to be the main or the core of the society with all other units and structures stemming from it. Today however, most families are run by singe parents as a result of divorce. Children with depressed parent(s) are at an increased risk of developing depression during their teenage years as compared with children whose parents are in healthy relationships. Notably is the fact that genetic factors may also play a role in this outcome. Emotional unavailability of a parent such as in the case of divorce or dysfunctional relationship between a child and a parent may also contribute towards increased risk of depression. Dysfunctional relationships in this case may develop due to a number of factors including but not limited to substance abuse on the part of the parent(s), marital conflict and overarching expectations from the parent(s). Other familial factors that can contribute towards increased risk include economic hardships, family conflicts and low cohesion. High expressed emotions within the family and including emotions which are negative, hostile and negative can have deep effects on the teenager’s self esteem as well as coping skills. Where negative and hostile comments surpass positive compliments, teenagers are more likely to feel alienated, unloved and unworthy. To the furthest extreme, a child may even start to develop suicidal thoughts.

Overarching Expectations

Higher family and societal expectations may put unnecessary pressure on a child as he or she strives to measure up to these expectations. Gender role expectations for example require a child to behave in a given manner and refrain from certain behaviors. For example, a girl child is often expected to assume feminine roles at all times and to refrain from behaviors which are considered to be masculine. Such pressure from the society may be demanding of a child and may result in anxiety and stress. A good example here can be drawn from members of the transgender minority group where individuals are expected to assume say feminine roles yet their natural inclination is towards masculine roles. Equally, parents often have higher expectations of their children in regard to their behavior and career choice. More often than not, parents will dictate to their children the kind of career paths that they want them to follow. Any deviation is often met with reprimand from the parent. This scenario is closely related to the issue of lack of communication or dysfunctional relationship between the parent and the child. Where a child feels pressurized to do what the parents requests or where the child feels that he or she is not at par with his/her parent expectations, they can become depressed. This is also the case with societal expectations as in the case of peers.


Whilst interaction with the peer helps in molding a child’s social skills, peers can also instigate negative influence on the child. One of the major roles played by peers in the development of a child revolves around offering support and cultivating a feeling of belongingness. This way, a child will always feel secure and valued within his/her peer group. On the flip side, low peer popularity has been linked to depression and its associated symptoms. Among teenagers, reduced contact with friends and experiences of rejections culminate to increased depressive affect. For example, young adolescents who are bullied and ridiculed by their peers tend to lose self esteem and value to their lives. Interestingly, depression has been shown to be a major contributor to poor social relationships among teenagers. In this regard, poor social relationships act as a contributory factor in increased risk of depression among young adolescents but it does not present a protective power over the same. In later years of development, tight peer relationship has been shown to have a protective influence especially where the parent-child relationship is dysfunctional for one reason or the other.

Dysfunctional peer relationships in teenagers consists some of the major predictors of depression disorder among adults. Undoubtedly, cases of bullying in school provide a good avenue for children and young adults to become depressed in their lives. For example, cases of students dropping out of school or committing suicide due to bullying have been on witnessed in the past with the victims having been carried by the spirit of rejection and unworthiness. In another light, peer influence can be a significant contributing factor towards substance abuse among teenagers. Past research studies have noted the influence of peer pressure in relation to substance abuse leading to addiction and delinquency. This in turn affects academic performance and impairs performance among teenage-going children. The feeling of failure coupled with increased substance abuse usually leads to depression among teenagers. This is especially difficult for those who lack the necessarily resources to sustain their newly acquired behavior. As would be expected, peer pressure also spills over to matters related to the family as teenagers look for scapegoats for their societal defined ill behavior. Affiliation with peer groups and lack of fitting equally plays a significant role in determining the level of risk for developing depression among teenagers.

Substance Abuse

Substance abuse among teenagers has been identified as one of the contributing factors towards depression among teenagers. On one facet, substance abuse on the side of the parents may turn out to be depressing to their children. Children raised in families where one or both parents are substance abusers may not feel loved or appreciated as such parents are unable to create time for a healthy relationship with their child. In such a case, the possibility of a growing dysfunctionality in familiar relationships is foreseeable with the child taking much of the burden as compared with the parents. As would be expected, complete deterioration of the family as the unit of the society has contributed tremendously towards cases of depression among teenagers today. Of specific importance is the fact that most children tend to blame themselves for the ills happening within their family, opting to shut down or remain silent over what they believe to be their faults. Good relationship with the parent(s) helps to buffer negative implications of stressful life experiences. However, substance abuse on the side of the teenage and as a result of peer pressure impairs this relationship and exaggerates any genetic vulnerability that may exist in regard to development of depression. Again, there is an intercorrelation between different factors when it comes to substance abuse and the risk of developing depression among teenagers.

Cognitive Abilities

Teenagers portray dramatic increases in reasoning capacity as well as cognitive ability. Their ability to reflect on their development is believed to play a significant role in determining their level of susceptibility to depression and other mental disorders. As young people progress from one developmental stage to the other, their capacity to reflect on the future increases. Similarly, they start to become aware of their true selves and to contemplate on their future. Here, teenagers start to evaluate not only what the outside world think about them but also the image they reflect to the outside world. Issues related to body image and how they communicate to the outside world starts to take precedence in their lives and self image becomes particularly important. Their cognitive capacity becomes vulnerable to evaluations from the outside world making more vulnerable to depression. Arguably, the relationship cognitive vulnerability and depression among teenagers can be measured using three approaches including information processing, child-adolescent depression and self-control cognition.

In each aspect of cognition, there seems to be a variation between teenagers who are depressed and those who are not.  Despite this, conscientiousness of cognitive processes as contributory factor remains a question of research. For instance, young adolescents who blame negative events on internal, outside and stable factors are more likely to be depressed as compared with their counterparts who maintain an open mind in addressing situations. Attributions in this case emerge as important determinants of the level of risk facing teenagers as well as the symptoms they exhibit in their later developmental stages as compared with their childhood. Important to note also here is the interrelation between self awareness and risk of depression. During adolescent stage, teenagers become increasingly aware of their outward outlook and its contribution to acceptance in their circle. Inherent here is the issue of peer acceptance and general appearance. At this stage, teenagers are more likely to feel alienated from their peer groups based on their physical appearance, their dressing or their composure contrary to what others in their inner circle may think.

Time Management

Today and more than ever, the issue of time management presents a considerable challenge to young adolescents as it does to their parents. Here, time management is understood in terms of how an individual prioritize tasks for optimal personal efficiency. Teenagers are required to allocate time to different activities including but not limited to school activities and other activities. Obtaining a balance between the two has often presented a challenge for most teenagers, often creating dilemma and a feeling of defeat. Correct time management is hailed as one of the important ways through which individuals can be able to reduce anxiety and other stress related complications. Today and more than ever, teenagers are faced with increased demands in regard to their academic and social life. Failure to meet these demands in a timely manner and the inability to for example submit a school assignment can weigh down heavily on the students creating an inhibitor environment. The constant demands laid on young adolescents by their school and out-of-school demands may put overwhelming stress on them the result of which stress and increased anxiety. In their study of eh relationship between time management and employees’ mental health, Alinezhad, Beheshtifar and Gorbani found that lack of proper time management skills in this case may lead to depression and other mental related disorders. On the other hand, good time management is been associated with improved mental health as well as personal success. In this context, time is seen as an important factor in decreasing anxiety and depression.

Social Media

The use of smart technology and social media for that matter especially among young adolescents has become an integral part of day to day life. Today, more and more adolescents are using social media as a way of communicating with friends and families as well as to collect information relating to different aspects of life. Whilst social media as orchestrated by smart technology can be progressive in nature, it many studies have shown that it also has the potential to generate negative effects. For example, social media has helped exacerbate the problems of cyber bullying, risks of sexual solicitation as well as exposure to violence and other problematic content. Of particular interest in this case is cyber bullying which has overtaken the traditional form of bullying and created an avenue for emotional distress for social media users. As opposed to traditional bullying, cyber bullying allows perpetrators to threaten, harass and humiliate others on social media platforms. Today, cyber bullying has been identified as one of the causes of increased cases of depression and anxiety among teenagers. In fact, it has been linked with increased cases of suicide among this particular population with the most target group being female students, gays and lesbians. Online sexual predation has also increased thanks to social media thereby increasing the risk of depression among teenagers and other social media users.

The Other Side of the Story

One of the most used alternatives of explaining depression among youth adolescents has relied on the genetic explanation of disease origin. Some researchers have tried to explain depression among children and young adolescents based on their genetic predisposition. In this context, researchers argue that children whose parents suffer or have a history of depression are more likely to suffer from depression as compared with children whom parents have no such record. Exposure to maternal has for long been thought to be a contributing factor towards cases of depression among teenagers. It is important however to not that there is no consistent evidence to suggest that depression in young adolescents is as a result of prenatal and postnatal conditions of the mother health wellbeing. On the contrary, the risk effects are thought to be mediated through introduction to later maternal symptoms and related psychosocial adversity. To this end, there is no proven evidence to suggest that teenagers who exhibit symptoms of depressions acquired them through inheritance as suggested. On the contrary, there is evidence to suggest that children who are raised by depressed parents have a higher risk of contracting the condition as compared with their counterparts from healthy familial background.

It is easy to prevent suicide in teenagers if symptoms are discovered earlier. The symptoms are usually a vital and helpful part in determining the kind of depression the teenagers face and ensure that the family is aware and can help. Symptoms can also be used to help the teenagers avoid such situations that can help them avoid depression. This is possible as symptoms are the first to appear before these teenagers are depressed. The symptoms can additionally be used by their parents to know that their children are going to be depressed. Symptoms like losing interest in activities or their inability to enjoy things that they previously enjoyed is a sure sign that the teenager is depressed. If these symptoms are noticed by their parents early and dealt with, then they will prevent the teenagers from suicidal attempts. According to Stice et al., if the teenager comes from a family with traditions to commit suicide (genetically), then the parents should arrange for an early counseling to ensure that the teenager’s thoughts on suicide are thwarted early.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The above ongoing discussion sought to explicate the psychosocial factors behind depression among teenagers. Arguably, teenagers are under increased pressure to conform to societal and familiar expectations to a point where they become stressed and by extension depressed. Social media coupled with substance abuse, disintegration of social structures and cognitive factors such as concerns regarding one’s appearance all contributes towards increased risks of depression among teenagers. Other psychosocial factors include time management, peer pressure, and substance abuse. In addressing the issue of depression among teenagers, family therapy is often the best recommended therapeutic remedy to the problem of depression among teenagers. Such intervention should aim at enhancing communication between parents and their children with the aim of enhancing familiar relationships. In addition, there is a need for effective government policies, specifically aimed at addressing inequalities and other defining factors of society. To this end, the government should enact policies aimed at not only educating parents on the issue of depression among children but also policies which are aimed at eliminating any form of inequality that may regrettably helps in orchestrating the same. More importantly, there is the need for public education especially in regard to the effects of peer pressure and how best to cope with stressful events. Empowerment in this case is of considerable importance as it will help parents as well as individual teenagers to identify symptoms of depression at the onset stage and allow for timely intervention.

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