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BACKGROUND: The under-detection of depression in adolescents suggests that a better understanding of its presentation may be needed. Conceptualizations of adolescent depression are largely the same as adult depression, with minimal consideration of developmental stage. Exploration of first-hand accounts could help to identify any unique features of adolescent depression. Therefore, this systematic review aimed to understand the lived experience of adolescents with depression to inform clinical practice. METHODS: The review was registered with PROSPERO (CRD42020198141). Databases (PsychINFO, CINAL, MEDLINE and EMBASE) were searched in March 2022 to identify peer-reviewed qualitative studies on first-hand experiences of adolescent depression. The Joanna Briggs Institute's qualitative data extraction tool and checklist for qualitative research were used to obtain study data and assess methodological quality of included papers. Meta-aggregation was the method of synthesis, whereby extracted themes from the papers were grouped according to shared meanings. RESULTS: Fifteen papers of mixed methodological quality were identified for inclusion from screening a total of 1,983 references. Studies were published between 2002 and 2021, spanned seven countries and included participants aged 11 to 22 years old. Aggregation of 56 themes resulted in 16 categories and 3 synthesized findings encompassing key aspects of adolescent depression: causes, symptoms and coping. Variability in adolescents' perspectives across these domains was evident. Some symptoms described, such as social disconnection and anger, are not listed in existing diagnostic criteria. CONCLUSIONS: Subjective experiences of depression among adolescents vary and may not entirely match diagnostic criteria. Awareness of this when assessing for depression may improve detection and help to ensure adolescents feel understood.

Original publication




Journal article


Clin Psychol Psychother

Publication Date



adolescence, depression, experience, meta-aggregation, qualitative, systematic review