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Physician's Fact #11: Depression in Teenagers can Lead to Violence

Recent episodes involving adolescents-turned-killers raise disturbing questions regarding why school-age children commit unconscionable acts of violence against their peers.

The mixture of adolescence, school bullying, and depression is explosive according to psychologists who've studied the issue. Bullying may result in depression, self-hatred, and a death wish that may one day explode in unfathomable violence in boys. And, we now know that depression may underlie even the most violent act.

"If you do a role play with batterers and freeze the action before the lashing out and ask them how they feel, they'll say they feel betrayed, unloved. There's a millisecond of tolerance for those depressive feelings, and then the man flips up into dominance rage and lashes out," says Terrence Real, a Cambridge-based psychotherapist.

Wouldn’t rage disappear once depression sets in? A recent report in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry revealed that about one in three depressed people are also openly hostile and may have "anger attacks" -- a racing heart beat, sweating, hot flashes, and a tightness in the chest -- in response to minor irritations. More than 60 percent of depressed patients who have anger attacks claim they have physically or verbally attacked others during their fits of rage, according to the report.

The high level of violence in the United States encourages teens to act out in violent ways. The U.S. Surgeon General's mental health report noted that by the time young people have reached adolescence, 16 million teens in this country "have witnessed some form of violent assault, including robbery, stabbing, shooting, murder, or domestic abuse.” Youth violence is so pervasive it is the second leading cause of death for people between the age of 10 and 24.

For more information on how to tell if a teenager is depressed, check out the Q&A later this week.

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