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Young adults at greater risk of depression

Study finds they are more affected by associated problems like low self-esteem.
The Straits Times - October 1, 2012
By: Poon Chian Hui
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Young adults at greater risk of depression

WHEN it comes to depression, it matters whether you are a man or woman, young or old.

At least, this is what a first-of-its-kind study by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) suggests.

A look at the symptoms reported by patients who visited general practitioners (GPs) for other illnesses found that young adults appear at greater risk of the ailment.

They were more affected by many problems associated with depression: from weight loss to sadness and low self-esteem.

Younger people also appeared harder hit by fluctuating appetites, and showed a greater inability to experience pleasure from activities that are usually enjoyable, such as exercise and hobbies.

In contrast, those aged above 35 had more trouble than their younger counterparts in only one area - sleeping during the night.

The study, which assessed 400 people aged 21 to 65 who went to see GPs, also found that Malays scored the highest in displaying these symptoms - fatigue, inability to concentrate properly and feeling slowed down.

Overall, women reported higher levels of sadness than the men.

But results differed the most across ages, and less so across ethnicity and gender, said senior clinical psychologist Sharon Sung who led the study, which concluded earlier this year.

GPs should be more vigilant to screen for depressive symptoms, particularly in young people, said Associate Professor Sung.

The study showed that over 30 per cent of patients who visit GPs for other ailments also display significant signs of depression.

This is higher than the 6 per cent rate for the population at large, noted Prof Sung, who works at IMH's child and adolescent psychiatry department. "Therefore, GPs are in an important position to identify patients who are experiencing depression," she said.

The study was presented at the Singapore Health and Biomedical Congress last week. Depression is set to be the top mental health ailment here, followed by alcohol abuse and obsessive-compulsive disorders. It is estimated to affect 6.3 per cent of adults at some stage of their lives.

Mental health at primary care level has been getting more attention recently. Three weeks ago, the IMH handed out toolkits to GPs containing tips on how to pick out and treat people at risk of gambling and alcohol addiction.

Earlier this year, workshops were also conducted to train GPs to spot suicidal signs in patients.

While depression seems to afflict younger people more, it could be a result of their "greater willingness to disclose such symptoms", researchers noted.

Prof Sung urged those who are depressed to seek help.

"It is important for the public to recognise that depression is common and treatable. It is not a cause for shame or stigma."

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