Addressing the Adolescent Depression Challenge

This is a guest post submitted by Dr. Stan Kutcher, the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health.

Depression is the largest contributing component to the global burden of illness, with about half of all Depressions beginning before the age of 25. Even though effective treatments are available, most youth with Depression do not seek appropriate treatment or have efficient access to appropriate care. Treatment of Depression in young people can improve both short and long term outcomes. Thus, there needs to be greater emphasis on the importance of early identification and effective treatment for young people with Depression, worldwide.

World Health Day (April 7, 2017) has been designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as Depression focused. Since its inception ten years ago, the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health, led by Dr. Stan Kutcher, has focused on improving the lives of youth with mental illness, such as Depression, through evidence-based knowledge translation and practical effective interventions. We are pleased to stand together with the WHO in bringing attention to the importance of increasing knowledge, decreasing stigma and enhancing access to effective care for young people with Depression.

Untreated Depression increases all cause mortality including death by suicide. Enhanced access to effective care has a substantial impact on decreasing the personal, social and economic costs of Depression. Investment in addressing Depression in young people will pay a population dividend. At the Sun Life Financial Chair in Adolescent Mental Health, we have addressed the adolescent Depression challenge in several ways.

Our goal has been to work towards helping youth improve their mental health literacy and receive rapid access to effective care in their schools and in their communities. Guided by our mission statement, “giving you the knowledge, understanding and tools to improve mental health care for young people”, we have created evidence-based resources and training programs, designed for use by health providers, educators, youth and families. These resources are freely accessible for those who want to apply them. All have been developed to support the Pathway Through Care innovation, specifically designed to simply, frugally and effectively meet mental health care needs of young people and their families (http://teenmentalhealth.org/pathwaythroughcare/).

Specifically for Depression we have created numerous youth and educator resources, such as the Mini-magazine, Depression (http://teenmentalhealth.org/product/tmh-speaks-depression/), the school curriculum resource (www.teenmentalhealth.org/curriculum) and the animated video Ellie’s Depression (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8EPzkxAiVw). Our unique Could My Parent Be Depressed (http://teenmentalhealth.org/product/parent-depressed/) resource addresses the need to help youth who have a parent with the illness. The Treatment of Adolescent Depression training program is available to all Canadian primary care providers on-line and has been adapted for use in numerous countries across the world.

Depression can be effectively addressed globally through The Pathway Through Care model. This provides a simple, innovative method for integrating education and healthcare with demonstrated positive outcomes for students, teachers and others. It builds on and improves existing institutional structures, embeds competent capacity into existing health and education systems, and can be easily adapted to local circumstances. Bringing mental health literacy and enhancing access to health care in schools is a frugal innovation that can address both health and mental health needs of young people.

Schools can be sites for the provision of mental health literacy through curriculum embedded resources and can also be vehicles through which mental health care in the community can be accessed, most simply by using a school health center model – health for all just down the hall.

This approach has global reach and works in diverse settings – geographic, cultural and economic. It addresses all aspects of the mental health journey, from: awareness; to literacy; to early identification; to triage and support and to rapid access to effective care in the community.

For example, we have successfully applied this approach to addressing youth Depression in Sub-Saharan Africa through An Integrated Approach to Addressing the Challenge of Depression among the youth in Malawi and Tanzania (IACD). It is an innovative intervention developed by Dr. Kutcher in collaboration with Farm Radio International. Funded by Grand Challenges Canada, a Pathway Through Mental Health Care for young people integrates radio dramas for awareness and stigma reduction with the training of teachers, and creation of school-based listening clubs for mental health literacy and training of community health workers in the identification, diagnosis, and effective treatment of youth with Depression.

We are currently exploring new opportunities to allow us to widen our school and health care integrated work in Eastern Europe, Asia, North America, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. We continue to work across Canada and with key Faculty of Education partners from coast to coast. We have almost completed the first national pre-service teacher mental health literacy resource that can be used to train educators to better prepare them for their future careers and assist them in effectively addressing mental health related challenges that occur.

On this World Health Day, we hope to remind everyone of the importance of understanding Depression, knowing about its treatment and encouraging all Canadians to work together in a manner that integrates education and health systems to better meet the mental health development and care needs of young people across our entire country.

For access to any of our resources please visit our website TeenMentalHealth.Org and follow us on social media to continue the conversation.