Adolescent perspectives on depression as a disease of loneliness: a qualitative study with youth and other stakeholders in urban Nepal

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Child and adolescent psychiatry and mental health








Adolescence; Depression; Loneliness; Nepal; Qualitative research; Social isolation


BACKGROUND: There is a lack of research on the adolescent experience of depression in low- and middle-income countries. Criteria derived from research conducted primarily among adult Western populations inform current diagnostic standards for depression. These clinical categories are often used without exploration of their relevance to adolescent experience. Also, reliance on these categories may overlook other symptoms of depression that manifest in non-western settings. Cross-cultural qualitative work with adults in non-Western settings has suggested some differences with experience of depression and symptoms that are most relevant to service users. Research into adolescent experiences of depression is warranted to inform the development of effective interventions. METHODS: Qualitative interviews were conducted in Nepal with adolescents with depressive symptoms (n = 9), healthy adolescents (n = 3), parents (n = 6), teachers (n = 10), social workers (n = 14), primary (n = 6) and mental (n = 6) healthcare providers, and policymakers (n = 6). Two focus groups were conducted with parents (n = 12) of depressed and non-depressed adolescents. Data were analyzed according to the framework approach methodology. RESULTS: Loneliness was the hallmark experience that stood out for all adolescents. This was connected with 5 other clusters of symptoms: low mood and anhedonia; disturbances in sleep and appetite, accompanied by fatigue; irritability and anger; negative self-appraisals including hopelessness and self-doubt; and suicidality. Adolescents distinguished depression from other forms of stress, locally referred to as tension, and described depression to involve having "deep tension." Perceived causes of depression included (1) Family issues: neglectful or absent parents, relationship problems, and family discord; (2) Peer relationships: romantic problems, bullying, and friendship problems; and (3) Social media: social comparison, popularity metrics, cyberbullying, and leaking of personal information. CONCLUSIONS: Consistent with other cross-cultural studies, loneliness was a core element of the adolescent experience of depression, despite its absence as a primary symptom in current psychiatric diagnostic classifications. It is important to note that among youth, symptoms were clustered together and interrelated (e.g., sleep and appetite changes were connected with fatigue). This calls for the need for more cross-cultural qualitative research on experience of depression among adolescents, and potential for modification of diagnostic criteria and prevention and treatments to focus on the experience of loneliness.


Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences