The statistics on teen depression are sobering. Studies indicate that one in five children have some sort of mental, behavioral, or emotional problem, and that one in ten may have a serious emotional problem. Among adolescents, one in eight may suffer from depression. Of all these children and teens struggling with emotional and behavioral problems, a mere 30% receive any sort of intervention or treatment. The other 70% simply struggle through the pain of mental illness or emotional turmoil, doing their best to make it to adulthood.
The consequences of untreated depression can be increased incidence of depression in adulthood, involvement in the criminal justice system, or in some cases, suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24. Even more shocking, it is the sixth leading cause of death among children ages 5-14. The most troubling fact is that these struggling teens often receive no counseling, therapy, or medical intervention, even though the National Institute of Mental Health reports that studies show treatments of depression in children and adolescents can be effective.
Brown University reported in 2002 that many parents simply do not recognize the symptoms of depression in their adolescent children. They found that even parents who have good communication with their children do not necessarily realize it when a child is depressed (The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, Vol. 18, No 4, April 2002).
Parents should be particularly aware of the risk of depression in children who have had long-term or chronic illnesses, who have been abused or neglected, have experience a recent trauma, or lost a loved one. The National Institute of Mental Health also reports that teenage girls are more likely to develop depression than teenage boys (NIMH, 2000).
Recognizing Adolescent Depression
Parents should investigate further and seek outside help if their child or adolescent expresses (or seems to be experiencing) feelings of sadness, hopelessness, despair, worthlessness, or lack of interest in usual activities. Parents should also be concerned if their teen is having trouble concentrating, cannot make a decision, and has shown a drop in academic performance. Because adolescents do not have the verbal skills of adults, they often cannot express what they are feeling in a way that allows parents to identify depression as the issue. Sometimes physical symptoms may be a way for parents to dig deeper. Headaches, muscle aches, low energy, sudden change in appetite or weight, insomnia or hypersomnia may be physical manifestations of clinical depression. A depressed teen may also seem restless, irritable, anxious, or belligerent. You may notice he or she is having trouble getting along with peers, siblings, and authority figures. Teachers may report the child is skipping classes or not paying attention in class. Your teen might start paying less attention to his or her appearance and hygiene, or may seem to spend much more time alone, possibly even dropping out of the usual activities they enjoy (sports, hobbies, music lessons).
If you are a parent with a teen whose behavior has changed and negative patterns have existed for more than 2 weeks, please contact a local mental health practitioner with expertise in treating children and adolescents to further assess the situation. Depression responds best to therapy and treatment when it is identified early.
PHILADELPHIA — Religion and science can combine to create some thorny questions: Does God exist outside the human mind, or is God a creation of our brains? Why do we have faith in things that we cannot prove, whether it’s the afterlife or UFOs?
The new Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania is using brain imaging technology to examine such questions, and to investigate how spiritual and secular beliefs affect our health and behavior.
“Very few are looking at spirituality from a neurological side, from the brain-mind side,” said Dr. Andrew Newberg, director of the center.
A doctor of nuclear medicine and an assistant professor at Penn, Newberg also has co-written three books on the science-spirituality relationship. He's also played a role in "What the Bleep Do We Know," a movie that blends quantum physics and new-age neuroscience.
Newberg's center is not a bricks-and-mortar structure but a multidisciplinary team of Penn researchers exploring the relationship between the brain and spirituality from biological, psychological, social and ideological viewpoints. Founded last April, it is bringing together some 20 experts from fields including medicine, pastoral care, religious studies, social work and bioethics.
“The brain is a believing machine because it has to be,” Newberg said. “Beliefs affect every part of our lives. They make us who we are. They are the essence of our being.”
Spirituality and belief don’t have to equate to religious faith, Newberg said. The feelings of enlightenment and well-being some derive from religion can come to others through from artistic expression, nonreligious meditation, watching a beautiful sunset or listening to stirring music.
“Atheists have belief systems, too,” Newberg said.
Testing the hypotheses How does the center test the relationship between the mind and spirituality?
In one study, Newberg and colleagues used imaging technology to look at the brains of Pentecostal Christians speaking in tongues — known scientifically as glossolalia — then looked at their brains when they were singing gospel music. They found that those practicing glossolalia showed decreased activity in the brain’s language center, compared with the singing group.
The imaging results are suggestive of people’s description that they do not have control of their own speech when speaking in tongues. Newberg said scientists believe that speech is taken over by another part of the brain during glossolalia, but did not find it during the study.
Other recent studies looked at the brains of Tibetan Buddhists in meditation and Franciscan nuns in prayer, then compared the results to their baseline brain activity levels.
Among other changes, both groups showed decreased activity in the parts of the brain that have to do with sense of self and spatial orientation — which suggests the description of oneness with God, of transcendence sometimes experienced in meditation or prayer.
Prayer and meditation also increase levels of dopamine, often referred to as the brain’s pleasure hormone.
“The mind and the body are the flip side of the same coin,” said Dr. Daniel Monti, head of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s integrated medicine center. “Now we know some of the mechanisms by which that occurs, and it’s becoming better and better understood.”
Medicine and meditation The integrated medicine center teaches patients with cancer, chronic pain and other ailments to work things like meditation and proper diet into their conventional therapy, Monti said. Such thinking seemed “fringy” to many people a decade ago, but it is becoming widely accepted by the medical community and patients, he said.
“Now there’s the recognition that a truly effective treatment plan is not just giving a pill,” he said. “We need to look at how to help a person adjust to a different lifestyle in addition to taking a pill.”
Not many imaging studies have yet been done that look at changes in the brain’s blood flow because technology has only within the past decade become sophisticated enough to study the brain in this way, Newberg said. An increase in blood flow to certain parts of the brain means increased activity in those areas.
Newberg is currently studying how the brains of novice yoga practitioners change as they become more adept, and whether meditation can improve cognitive impairment in people with mild dementia or early Alzheimer’s disease.
“The sky’s the limit as far as the things we can study,” he said.
In the age of hookups, friends with benefits and online dating, and as human life expectancy grows, is it still reasonable to expect people to pair up and stay monogamous until death do them part?
"It's realistic that some people can mate for life in the same sense that some people can play the Beethoven violin concerto or other people can ice-skate beautifully or learn a new language," said psychiatrist Judith Eve Lipton.
Added evolutionary biologist David Barash, "It's within the realm of human potential, but it's not easy."
Lipton and Barash, who have been married 32 years and are the co-authors of "Strange Bedfellows" and "The Myth of Monogamy," said serial monogamy may be more realistic -- a model in which people move from one committed long-term relationship to another and choose partners for different reasons at different stages of their life.
Possibilities in polyamory?
For some, even serial monogamy seems too restrictive.
The 1970s introduced the concept of "open marriage" in which couples stayed married but were free to date other people.
More recently, polyamory -- the practice of having romantic relationships with multiple people at the same time with the full knowledge and consent of all involved -- has been getting a lot of attention.
"We found the expectation that one person should be our everything seemed unrealistic given our day and age. ... It's oddly pressuring to set up that scenario," said Mark, who lives in Springfield, Missouri, and is in a polyamorous relationship. (He asked that his last name not be used for privacy reasons.)
Mark, 42, has been married for five years. He and his wife tried different things to spice up their marriage, including swinging, or having casual sex with other people, he said. But they found the experience unfulfilling and decided what they really wanted was to be able to fall in love with others while staying together.