Why Today’s Teens Are More Depressed.
Depression is a serious mental illness that can affect anyone. Depression causes ongoing sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest, and in severe cases, suicidal thoughts. Adolescents and teenagers are one of the populations most affected by depression (approximately 20% of adolescents and teenagers will struggle with depression before reaching adulthood).
Depression impacts the way a teenager thinks, feels, and behaves, and symptoms can manifest in both emotional and physical ways. Although depression can occur at any stage of life, symptoms may be different for adolescents and teens.
Teenage Depression Statistics
Research is continuously emerging around adolescent and teenage depression, and the statistics are somewhat overwhelming:
- Only 30% of adolescents and teens with depression are receiving treatment
- Approximately 20% of adolescents and teenagers will struggle with depression before they reach adulthood
- Depression increases a teens risk of attempting suicide by 12 times
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people (ages 15 to 24).
- Every 100 minutes a teenager takes his or her own life
- Around 30% of adolescents and teenagers who have depression will also develop a substance abuse problem
Symptoms of Depression in Adolescents and Teenagers
Depression symptoms in adolescents and teens consist of a change from their previous attitude and behavior. Symptoms of depression can cause significant distress, and contribute to problems in all areas of life, ultimately affecting a teenager’s general well-being and quality of life. Depression symptoms can look different depending on the individual, and the severity of symptoms may vary as well. But if you are noticing changes in your adolescent or teen’s emotions and behavior, it should not be ignored.
Be alert to emotional changes in your adolescent or teenager, such as:
- Feeling “empty” or hopeless
- Feelings of sadness
- Increased irritability or annoyance
- Increased anger or frustration, often over small matters
- Decrease or total loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Focus on past “failures” or exaggerated self-blame and negative self-talk
- Difficulty concentrating, focusing, and/or staying on task
- Low self-esteem
- Increased conflict with friends and family
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
Certain changes in behavior can be indicators your teenager may be experiencing depression.
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in eating habits and appetite (including weight loss or weight gain)
- Crying spells, often with no clear cause
- Loss of energy or lethargy
- Alcohol or drug use
- Isolation (spending time alone)
- Poor academic performance
- Anger outbursts or agitation
- Restlessness (i.e. – wringing of hands, pacing, inability to sit still)
- Running away from home
- Sluggishness or lethargy
- Slowed movements, speech, and/or thought processing
- Complaints of body aches, headaches, or gastrointestinal upset
- Neglect of self-care and appearance (showering, wearing clean clothing, etc.)
- Self-harm (i.e. – cutting, burning, etc.)
- Making a plan for committing suicide or attempting suicide
Although every adolescent and teenager is susceptible to developing symptoms of depression, certain factors make some more likely than others, including:
- Family history – adolescents and teens with a family member who has suffered from depression are up to 50% more likely to experience depression themselves
- Being female – female adolescents and teens are twice as likely as males to develop depression
- History of abuse and/or neglect – if an adolescent or teenager has been the victim of abuse (such as sexual, emotional, or physical abuse), or been neglected as a child, their chances of suffering from depression greatly increase.
- Chronic illness or physical conditions
- Substance abuse or mental illness – approximately two-thirds of adolescents and teenagers diagnosed with depression also have another mental health disorder (such as anxiety) or use drugs/alcohol.
- Stressful life events – events such as parental divorce, death, or other major disruptions in the home can increase a youth’s chances of experiencing depression.
Why Do So Many Teenagers Have Depression?
Since the 1970s, researchers have been monitoring and studying adolescents and teenagers and their mental health. According to research results, around the year of 2012, there was a fairly significant increase in the number of teens experiencing symptoms of depression. This increase continued to rise in the years following, making today’s teens the most depressed generation in decades. Although the research provides evidence in the form of numbers and statistics, there still remains the question as to why so many teens are depressed today. While there are a wide range of suggestions as to why today’s teens are suffering from depression at an alarming rate, some hypotheses are more agreed upon than others, including:
- An unprepared generation – some experts believe today’s adolescents and teenagers have been raised to have unrealistic expectations. Whether from media, parents, or teachers, the overwhelming message suggests we should always feel “good” or “happy”, and thus youth are not being taught the necessary coping skills needed during times of increased stress, sadness, or other difficult emotions.
- Stress – teenagers today seem more stressed out than ever before; and stress is directly related to symptoms of depression. Many factors associated with the modern teen lifestyle may be responsible for the rise in stress including lack of community, social pressures, less family support, less exercise, less sunshine, less unstructured “play” or free time, etc.
- Technology – smart phones and social media are things that affect teens directly. Using smart phones and engaging on social media are both unique to the current youth generation, and a fundamental change in how they spend their time. The popularization of smart phones in the last decade directly correlates with the reduction in face-to-face time teens spend with one another, and the timeline of the overall decrease in psychological well-being. Numerous studies have shown that the more time teens spend “behind a screen” (of a phone, computer, tablet, etc.), the less happy and more depressed they were. Those same teens also developed more risk factors for suicide as well. Interestingly, these studies accounted for other considerations such as gender, race, and socioeconomic status, and the results remained consistent regardless of these factors. Of course, there are also studies indicating the benefits of technology and social media use for today’s generation of adolescents and teenagers. Nonetheless, if your teen is struggling with depression and using his or her smart phone or social media frequently, this could be a possible influence to consider.
Treatment for Teenage Depression
Depression is serious, and if left untreated, it can lead to worsening symptoms, which, in some cases may become life threatening. If you think your adolescent or teen may be struggling with depression, there are treatment options that can help.
- Psycho-educational group therapy – therapy can assist teens in better understanding the underlying cause(s) of the depression and develop the coping skills and tools to help manage the symptoms. Working with a counselor or therapist also provides ongoing support, and an environment in which teens can explore difficult events, feelings, or experiences. Psychotherapy can be delivered in various modalities such as individual therapy, group therapy, and/or family therapy. There are also different approaches to psychotherapy. Two of the most commonly used approaches with teen depression are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy – helps teens challenge and change negative thought patterns and learn healthier ways to cope and behave.
- Interpersonal therapy – this approach to therapy is focused on helping teens develop healthier relationships at home and at school through teaching effective interpersonal (communication) skills.
- Medication – often used in conjunction with psychotherapy, medication can be helpful in relieving some of the difficult symptoms of depression. A licensed medical doctor or psychiatrist should always prescribe medication, and a thorough medical and mental health assessment should be done.
If your teenager recognizes the need for help, and comes to you asking for it, he or she has taken a major step towards recovery. Yet, it is important to remember that very few adolescents or teens seek help on their own. Many need encouragement from a friend or family member. So, if you think your child may be struggling with depression, ask him or her about it and suggest treatment options and call Polaris Teen Center at 1-844-836-0222.
Polaris Teen Center is a residential treatment facility for teens and adolescents suffering from severe mental health disorders. Our highly accredited facility is fully licensed and certified in Trauma Informed Care and is a part of the Behavioral Health Association of Providers (formerly AATA).