Teen brains are not broken

What do you remember about becoming a teenager? Maybe it was waking up one morning to discover that your body was shaped completely different or maybe you remember getting sick which means sickness of despair, emotional pain, loss of happiness and for some people wanting to die. We call this sickness ‘Depression’ and it is both common and deadly. One in three people will experience clinical depression in their lifetime and every year two and three-quarter million deaths can be attributed to depression, related sicknesses but despite the high prevalence and deadly cost of depression, there remains so much that we don’t understand about this sickness, we have no objective diagnostic test for depression or x-ray and we have no way of forecasting depression for a specific person , no genetic marker that can tell us about your risk.

We are left with lot of questions, what is depression? where does it come from? why does it happen? and who is at the highest risk? These questions were answered by a Clinical psychologist and Neuroscientist , they believe that one of the important keys for understanding depression is to pay attention to when depression tends to start- the teen years, which also happened to be a time of profound brain cognitive and social development. Teen development can make young people vulnerable to depression, adolescence is a kind of developmental Bermuda Triangle. It is characterized by three converging developmental events, first teen brains are changing- neuro development is unfolding throughout childhood but it’s getting into late childhood and early adolescence that brings puberty. Puberty brings a cascade of hormones that interact with changing brain structure function and communication.

Moving from childhood to teen years and even the early 20s, we see a remarkable reorganization of these functional networks. Earlier in childhood ,networks tends to be more strongly local that is neighboring parts of the brain like to talk to one another, but moving into the teen years and a bit beyond larger functional networks become more strongly synchronized and organized around hub brain areas, parts of the network that talked to both close and distant parts of the brain. In early teen, most of us are not great in regulating our feelings or impulses in those contexts but as we move through the teen years, we get better at self-regulation. The third major developmental event is the intense set of social changes and transitions to independence that we all navigate.

Unusual, very intense, traumatic stress events in the teen years can have bigger and more lasting impacts on mental health than if the same kinds of events occurred later in adulthood. Depression is no less real and no more shameful than cardiovascular disease or diabetes and just like those sicknesses, depression is treatable but we have to be willing to talk about it in order to get help and finally as a community we can highlight depression as a public health priority that is just as important as any other deadly illness. Having depression does not mean that your brain is broken, you are not broken, we can thrive.

Categories: Personality and Self Help

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