When bad mood means far more than teen angst

«Sometimes I find it hard to get out of bed,» says Eleni, 16. «I’m not in the mood to do anything, I don’t know how I’ll get through this year. I’m paralyzed.» The words of Eleni, 16, who is in the final year of senior high school (as reported to Kathimerini by a child psychiatrist), will seem familiar to many parents. And perhaps parents will try to figure out if this behavior is a sign of normal adolescent blues or the first signs of depression, a psychological illness that requires treatment because it can lead to more serious problems. «Unfortunately, most Greek parents automatically assume it is the former, closing their eyes to the problem,» says child psychiatrist Manos Tsalamanios, who works with Athens University’s Child Psychiatry Clinic and is charge of the Adolescents’ Day Center. «Every day we see that the stigma attached to mental illness has not yet disappeared in Greece. The people who come for help are just the tip of the iceberg.» He estimates that 10-15 percent of Greek adolescents suffer from some kind of psychiatric disturbances. Meanwhile, child psychiatrist Dimitris Anagnostopoulos, an associate professor at Athens University, says that despite the paucity of research into childhood in Greece, it has been shown that the level of depression among Greek children is higher than in other European Union countries. «It seems that there has been an increase in problems related to adolescence,» he told Kathimerini. «And this is due chiefly to the lifestyle of teenagers here, to the stress caused by the anxiety to succeed on which the education system is based.» Of the 361 adolescents treated last year at the Adolescents’ Health and Preventive Care Center, which is supervised by the First Psychiatric Clinic of Athens University, 25.5 percent of cases were related to psychological and psychiatric problems. Breaking down the figures, 10 percent had behavioral disorders, 2.5 percent had disturbed family relations, 2.5 percent had learning difficulties, while the remaining 10 percent had one or more of the following: eating disorders (mainly anorexia nervosa), low self-esteem, depressive behavior, phobias, substance abuse, Internet addiction, and trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling). The most common disorders in adolescence are related to anxiety. «Why should a child have to get three certificates in foreign languages before the age of 15?» asks Tsalamanios.