Depressive symptoms in adolescents : contributory factors at home and in school.
Depression is a serious mental health problem in adolescents. Schools and primary health care providers are flooded with adolescents who have serious emotional and behavioural problems. Mental health specialists initially overlooked this condition, later argued against its existence, then recommended universal acceptance of it as a separate clinical entity very similar in nature to adult depression. More recently they have expressed concern over the adolescent's cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional development capabilities in relation to depressive symptomatology and treatment. Quality mental health services are essential to decrease the prevalence, economic toll and mortality that result from depression. This study is a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. The principal objective of this study was to determine the prevalence of depressive symptoms in a sample of South African adolescents, to investigate contributory factors at home and in school, and elicit from the adolescent participants suggestions for improving the prevailing conditions. In order to establish the focus of the study four critical questions were posed: • What is the prevalence of depressive symptoms in adolescents? • What factors in the home contribute towards depressive symptoms? • What factors in the school contribute towards depressive symptoms? • What are the suggestions made by adolescents to improve the prevailing conditions? To accomplish this delineation, a group of Grade 11 learners were identified by means of cluster sampling. The entire cluster was given the Beck Depression Inventory, which is a self-report scale for screening depressive symptoms. The results of the BDI revealed that 118/566 learners i.e. 20.84% displayed symptoms of depression. These learners i.e.118 who had scored between 19-29 on the BDI were then given a survey questionnaire to complete. The findings of this study are consistent with other studies. An analysis of data confirmed previous reports of depressive symptoms in adolescents. Gender differences showing more females than males presenting with depressive symptoms were evident in the present study. Females had more responsibilities and not much support in the household chores that led to feelings of frustration and anger. The adolescents expressed concern over their studying and living conditions. In-depth interviews were used to gather information for qualitative analysis. From the content analysis of the interviews, three main themes were identified regarding the factors contributing towards depressive symptoms. Family Relationships (home), with communication, support, outside intervention and perceptions of their parents related to the first theme. The second theme related to peer/ sibling relationships associated with communication, support, other concerns, and perceptions of peers/siblings. The final theme related to school and included communication, support, performance and perceptions of school. Recommendations made on the basis of the present findings included the need for better support structures at schools, with parents and peers/siblings. The qualitative findings indicated a need for social organizations to play a more significant role in the community. Because of this potent combination of formal and informal influence, educators can be powerful resources for the development and continuity of intervention. Educators should be trained to recognize the markers of adolescent depression and to approach and refer them to a central person such as guidance counselors or social workers for initial screening and treatment if necessary. This study has contributed to research data in an area where there is a deficiency of information and understanding. The high prevalence of depressive symptoms in adolescents is a matter of great concern to all service providers. The contributory factors in the home and school that were identified should be attended to in order to improve the living and studying conditions of the learners.