Last updated May 29, 2018 at 11:15 am
Time to rethink treatments, researchers say.
Young people with depression can experience cognitive difficulties that reduce their ability to respond well to some standard treatments and even create a sense of worthlessness that feeds into their depression, a new study has found.
Researchers from Orygen (the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health) and the University of Melbourne have provided the strongest evidence to date of the prevalence and impact of difficulties such as poor concentration, memory and problem solving skills in people aged 12-25 years who have depression.
Orygen’s Dr Kelly Allott , who led the study with colleague Joanne Goodall, said cognitive issues were a known feature of depression in adults but were not well understood among younger people.
“It is important to look separately at the impact of depression on the cognitive abilities of young people as there is a significant period of brain development that occurs during adolescence and continues until around age 25,” she said.
“This period of brain development enhances multi-tasking abilities, problem-solving capacity and the ability to process complex information, so it’s to be expected that depression will have a different impact on the cognition of young people than it does in adults.”
Leading cause of disability worldwide
One in five young people experiences a clinical episode of depression by age 18 and depression is considered the leading cause of disability worldwide by the United Nations, as it can severely impact people’s ability to gain employment, complete education and maintain relationships. In severe cases, it can lead to suicide.
The Victorian team collated and analysed the results of 23 previous studies and found that young depressed people have difficulty focussing, maintaining attention and recalling previously presented verbal and visual information. They also struggle with verbal reasoning compared with non-depressed peers.
“These skills are all fundamental to effectively engaging with recommended treatments for depression, such as cognitive behavioural therapy,” Allott said. “Treatments such as CBT or talking therapy might therefore not be suitable or need to be adapted for young people with cognitive difficulties who have difficulty engaging with therapies that involve reasoning and other thinking skills.”
The researchers say highlighting that a person’s cognitive difficulties are linked to their depression not a part of “who they are” is important as it can give them a sense of reassurance and hope about their recovery.
The paper published in Neuropsychology Review.