The rate of depression in teenagers is on the rise, causing screening requirements to increasingly fall on paediatric care providers. New research has suggested that non-traditional lifestyle interventions may help providers manage the burden of care.
The study, from the University of Massachusetts, researched the benefits of lifestyle medicine interventions related to sleep, nutrition, physical activity, substance use, social connectedness, and stress management.
“Having additional and more comprehensive details about such lifestyle recommendations could help clinicians integrate specific advice into anticipatory guidance, management, and treatment plans,” suggested Talia S Benheim, BA, and her colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Depression in teenagers can continue into adulthood
Depression in teenagers has been strongly associated with negative academic, employment and health outcomes that continue into adulthood. Previous studies have highlighted the importance of early access to mental health interventions in teenagers. However, these services have become increasingly inaccessible to young people, especially in marginalised demographics.
The researchers wanted to assess the effectiveness of lifestyle interventions. Their conclusions were drawn from clinical trials, quantitative studies, and qualitative studies, as well as the author’s own clinical experience.
Previous research has established the efficacy of physical activity in reducing depression in teenagers. For example, a past study revealed that a two-hour decrease in sedentary activity in patients between 12 and 16 years old reduces depression scores by 16%-18% by the age of 18.
Small lifestyle changes can have a significant impact
Sleep problems during adolescence are known to persist into adulthood and have been associated with poor response to depressive treatment and are even a risk factor for suicide. One trial, as part of this study, found that simple bedtime routines such as keeping a diary or completing wind-down activities, as well as cognitive-behavioural therapy for insomnia, are highly effective in treating depression in teenagers.
Studies into nutrition have demonstrated that healthy plant- and whole-food-based diets can reduce depressive symptoms. The researchers recommend several simple approaches, such as tip sheets or recipes and engaging with a professional nutritionist to alleviate depression in teenagers.
Alcohol, nicotine, and cannabis use have also been associated with depression in teenagers. Studies have shown that prompt intervention is vital. An online programme in Australia has demonstrated that increased knowledge of substances, depression and anxiety is likely to reduce alcohol consumption in teenagers.
The researchers also found a correlation between loneliness and depression in teenagers. One of the studies revealed that increased social connectedness led to corresponding reductions in teenagers’ suicidal ideation. Examples of connectedness, such as social and sports clubs, have proven to reduce depressive symptoms.
Finally, the researchers found that interventions to support teenagers in coping with stress can favourably influence the onset, maintenance, and severity of depression. These lifestyle interventions include deep breathing, meditation, muscle relaxation techniques, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
The researchers have warned that interventions involving significant behavioural changes can be difficult, especially without social support and funding. Despite the low number of randomised controlled trials of psychological and health behaviour promoting interventions, the researchers believe these practices can help meet the rising demand for mental health support for teenagers.