Depressive experience of Young Adults and Adolescents

Updated: Mar 24, 2019

The depressive experience for Young Adults and Adolescents (YAA) is distinctive from the depressive presentation usually associated with adults. For the YAA very often the occurrence of such suffering is missed and indeed the person in question is likely to not recognise this either.

Permanent boredom, disinterest, and chronic fatigue would be typical symptoms of distress for the YAA and do point towards a depressive state yet, also, so too does risky behaviour, aggressiveness and hyperactivity. Each on its own does not equal a depressive experience, it is the cumulative factor that provides the indicators and are conveyed through the body an through their behaviour.

The distinctiveness of the experience is the normalised expectations of this age group – moody, disinterest, sullenness, argumentative, cross. This is the ‘you don’t understand!’ and ‘I don’t know’ adolescent. A presentation that the parent and adults find difficult to comprehend and resolve that in itself produces the adult’s sense of failure and inadequacy providing a breeding ground for disharmony and conflict.

Fundamentally there is the need, as always, for an approach that listens and takes seriously the YAA in their situation and attitude to empathise and ‘be in there’ with the person. This is about engaging at an embodied level that allows the adult’s felt experience to approach the YAA – an empathising position, and action of inclusion. This is, probably, a tall order for the average worried and distressed parent or adult.

Perhaps the most significant factor regarding the depressive experience of the YAA is its existential nature. As such there is no simple behavioural or cognitive fix. Existential issues of solitude, responsibility, conscience, and identity are strong drivers for the YAA. Of course such existential dilemmas are not identifiable by the YAA, there is, instead, an overriding sense of confusion, disconnection, dissonance in the world resulting in the YAA withdrawing to silence (apparent) inactivity.

Some of the difficulty in recognising the depressive experience is the normality of adolescent development that includes alternating moods, guilt, shame, a lack of self-esteem; all of which are typical in the YAA experience.

A clue to the YAA depressive experience is as much about what is not happening. ~The not happening is in relation to the cultural and societal norm of development. The YAA is ‘expected’ to move to individualisation, to find their own niche in life that is separate from the parent. How this is achieved variable and often conflictual. Indeed, if there is no conflict then possibly the separation is not being achieved and a degree of child attachment remains with the adult which, for some, will at some future point lead to adult depression or relational conflict.

The YAA is in many ways required to break free of the parental regime to allow the development of their own individual identity. This does complicate the task of establishing a distinction of development and depression. Through childhood the person is rewarded positively for agreement and adherence to the family and social structure and generally suffers recriminations and punishment for deviations of this. The parental task is to estimate and allow for the YAA growth to differentiation and separateness; to recognise a stage in development where the YAA deviates from the parental decrees and wants for the purpose of establishing a separate identity.

What never leaves a person is the ‘desire for the other’, meaning a relational need to be accepted unconditionally; a need to have another respond with clarity and with a sense of recognition. For the YAA to risk doing or being different; to seek a new venture, activity, or even attitude requires hope and belief and an underlying trust that all that has supported their development to this point will still be there. This applies to their families and their friendships and also the general situation in which they function - the world will still be there tomorrow.

What are the YAA of today having to face today? I mean, it’s not like ‘in myday’; they have never had it so good! Life is so much easier now; youngsters today have so much choice and option I never had when I was young!

Each generation has its unique and changing dimensions from the one before. Socially and culturally there are influences that can be traced to periods of changes in the world and in our societies – culturally, socially, educatively, technologically, biologically, experientially.

And this generational aspect is my next blog in this series

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