When considering measures to decrease the burden of disease that is caused by depression, depressive disorders of adolescents and young adults are of increasing interest. The prevalence of depressive disorders in adolescents and young adults is high. The probable increases in prevalence affect predominantly young people and their prognosis is particularly bad. This review discusses the potentials to influence the burden of disease through interventions such as therapy, including measures to detect persons at risk early, selective and universal prevention, and health promotion for adolescents and young adults. It considers the available evidence for the effectiveness of these interventions on the public health level. In addition, the suitability of implementation and ethical considerations are discussed. As a conclusion, health policy in its aim to reduce the burden of depressive disease should focus on increasing treatment rates and improving the efficiency of treatment in adolescents and young adults as well for depression as for other mental disease that has high co-morbidity with depression. In addition, the focus should be set on indicated prevention for children of depressed parents and--for health promotion reasons--on policies that impact on living-conditions of families.