Systematic Review and Meta-Synthesis: How Is Depression Experienced by Adolescents? A Synthesis of the Qualitative Literature

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry




adolescence; depression; qualitative research; systematic review


OBJECTIVE: To systematically investigate how youth with lived experience report their experience of depression in terms of features of depression and in relation to themselves and their environment. METHOD: We conducted a systematic review of qualitative research around the world that explored the subjective experience of depression among youth (age range, 10-24 years) who had self-reported, screened positive for, or received a formal diagnosis of the disorder. We used multiple databases to search for relevant studies published in any language up until March 2023. Studies were coded regarding features of depression reported by adolescents. We also used thematic synthesis to extract and synthesize descriptions of the lived experience of depression, and to develop analytic themes. The study was registered with PROSPERO, CRD42021218300. RESULTS: We identified a total of 23,424 unique records, and included 39 studies in the final review, representing the views of 884 adolescents with lived experience of depression. Most of the studies were conducted in high-income countries (72.8%), and the majority of participants were female (65%). The most frequently reported features of depression were sadness (present in 92.3% of the studies), social withdrawal (76.9%), and loneliness (69.2%). In addition, we constructed 3 themes that aimed to synthesize youths' accounts of their perceptions and experiences of depression: (1) making sense; (2) factoring in culture and contextual influences; and (3) accessing support and care. CONCLUSION: Some of the more commonly reported features of depression among youth are not explicitly included in the DSM/ICD diagnostic criteria but are highly relevant and closely connected to the experiences of adolescents. Moreover, contextual interpretations of depression may be more sensitive to capture representations and narratives of depression among youth. Thus, incorporating features of depression reported by adolescents could potentially increase accuracy of detection, promote collaborative work, and enhance therapeutic and care outcomes. STUDY PREREGISTRATION INFORMATION: The lived experience of depression in adolescence: a systematic review of the qualitative literature;; CRD42021218300.


Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences