Treating Depression Early In Young People Is Critical, Study Finds

A global study into major depression has highlighted just how important it is to treat depression in young people early.

The study, co-authored by the University of Sydney, compared the brain volumes in people with major depression vs healthy individuals.

What they found is that people with recurrent depression have a significantly smaller hippocampus – the part of the brain most associated with forming new memories – than mentally healthy people.

By looking at the hippocampus sizes in people with major depression, including those with recurrent depression, and who developed major depression at an early age (before 21), the study was able to produce game changing findings in just why some people experience recurrent depression.

“The earlier you get it, the more likely it is to become recurrent,” said Professor Ian Hickie, Co-Director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney. He said the study had completely reversed previously held beliefs that recurrent depression was more likely to occur in older people.

It’s all in the size of the hippocampus: people in the study who were experiencing their first episode of major depression had a normal sized one, while those who had major depression before the age of 21 had a smaller sized one.

In other words – it looks like persistent depression physically changes the brain.

The good news is that it’s reversible. The brain is able to repair itself with treatment, whether that be social, psychological, or medical. Even nutritional treatments such as taking fish oil can be beneficial, and are in fact a key player in keeping mentally healthy.

The important thing is to treat depression early, before it persists to a point where the brain begins to change. (Remember – reversible! If you’re reading this and think you’ve had depression for a long time, it. is. reversible.)

“This large study confirms the need to treat first episodes of depression effectively, particularly in teenagers and young adults, to prevent brain changes that accompany recurrent depression,” said Professor Hickie.

“This is another reason that we need to ensure that young people receive effective treatments for depression.”

The key, he says, is greater awareness. Depression in young people is not something to be trivialised or ignored – the earlier you treat it, the less likely you are to experience recurrent depression later in life.

“The more awareness, the better it is,” he says.

Guys – help is always, always available.

If you are experiencing anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts, give one of these guys a buzz: Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week), Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

If you’d like to learn more about mental illness and how to seek help, visit Beyond BlueBlack Dog Institute, or Headspace.

Want to read more? Here’s previous articles we’re written about mental illness: