Depression, once an affliction of adults, is striking more young people, psychologists say, a reflection of mounting social and academic pressures and family breakdowns. A Chinese University study found one in 10 adolescents had suffered depression, which the researchers say is a new phenomenon. Associate professor of psychology Freedom Leung Yiu-kin, who launched the study, said public education to promote mental health was urgently needed to deal with the growing problem. In the study, conducted from October last year to May, the university's psychology department interviewed 7,366 students aged 12 to 21 and found 10.2 per cent had symptoms of depression, such as loss of pleasure or interest in activities, suicidal thoughts, feelings of worthlessness, insomnia and weight loss. 'Forty years ago, the first signs of depression appeared around the age of 29 and depression was rare in adolescents. But in recent years, adolescent depression has become very common,' Dr Leung said. His findings confirmed a 2003 World Health Organisation finding which showed young people today are more prone to depression than their parents and grandparents. It found only 1 per cent of elderly people had suffered from depression when they were 20, compared with 4 per cent of those born in the 1940s, 10 per cent of those born in the 1960s and 15 per cent of those born in the 1970s and 1980s. Dr Leung said the phenomenon was caused by increasing social demands, which created competition and pressure, and mounting divorce and single-parent families, which created adjustment problems for young people. Economic problems were also a factor. 'People can't catch up with social demands. Once they can't adjust, they will have stress. Family problems come from society and now it is shifting to our children,' Dr Leung said. Prolonged stress would affect the production of antibodies and neurotransmitters, thus causing depression. School pressures are another problem. While only 8.5 per cent of Form One students interviewed had depression, 12.8 per cent of those in Form Five, who face public examinations, were depressed. 'Parents, because of higher social demands, are under work stress and spend little time at home. They cannot listen to their children who have no one to talk to about school work problems. The whole family goes through long-term pressure,' Dr Leung said. The study found that 11.6 per cent of those with depression had divorced or separated parents, compared with 6.9 per cent of those not suffering from depression. And 14.4 per cent of those with depression had parents in bad relationships, compared with just 5.9 per cent of non-depressive cases. Quarrelsome parents were cited by 16.8 per cent of depressive teenagers, compared with just 6.8 per cent of those without depression.