Updated 05 March 2020

Are depressed teens more prone to violence?

A new study has shown the importance of early, efficient treatment for teens suffering from depression.

One in five people suffers from a mental illness. In South Africa the statistics on teen suicide are shocking. According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) the average suicide rate is 17.2 per 100 000 (8% of all deaths) and the suicide rate for children aged 10–14 years old has more than doubled over the last fifteen years.

But the outcome of depression in teens might not always be suicide; teens with depression might be more likely to commit violent crimes, a new study suggests.

Increased risk of violence

Researchers who analysed data from Finland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom consistently found modest increases in risk for violence among depressed teenagers. Information on more than 62 000 young people aged 13 to 27 was used in the study.

"This research is important for two main reasons. Firstly, it adds to the evidence of the many potential harms of untreated depression in young people," said study leader Dr Seena Fazel.

"Secondly, it suggests that closer liaison between criminal justice and mental health might prevent violence in high-risk individuals," said Fazel, a professor of forensic psychiatry at the University of Oxford in England.

The study doesn't prove a direct cause-and-effect relationship. But the data from Finland, for example, showed that about 7% of teens with depression were convicted of one or more violent crimes, compared with less than 4% of those without depression.

Early treatment important

The results were published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

The findings show the need for early treatment of depression in teens and young adults, Fazel's team said in a journal news release. There's also need for further study into the connections between depression and violence, the researchers said.

Increased impulsivity, hostility and poor self-regulation may be factors, the researchers suggested.

How to support your depressed teen

According to a Health24 article, supporting someone with depression can be difficult because it's hard to gauge their specific needs. But there are simple ways to help if your teen is suffering from depression:

  • Don't just talk, but really listen to your teen.
  • Don't try to force your teen to "cheer up" or "snap out of it". Depression is in fact caused by a chemical imbalance that requires medication.
  • Find out more about the illness and support your child to find the right treatment.
  • Take any talk of suicide extremely seriously.

Image credit: iStock


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