A recently published survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that teen depression is on the rise in America.
In 2018, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health gathered data on adolescents aged 12–17 and compared depression rates over the last 14 years. The results show that 3.5 million teens in the U.S. had a major depressive episode within the last year. This number translates to roughly one in seven adolescents experiencing depression.
What causes depression in teens? Why is it so common, and why is it increasing among youth?
Depression is a complicated condition, and there is no singular cause that explains why people develop it. Every person is different, and a variety of social, environmental and biological factors can make someone more likely to develop depression. However, researchers have been able to identify some risk factors that increase the likelihood of teen depression. These include:
- Family history of depression
- Low self-esteem
- Drug and alcohol misuse
- Academic and parental pressure
- Persistent physical health issues and conditions
- History of physical or emotional trauma
- Challenging home and school life
- Being exposed to bullying
- Dietary insufficiency
- Poor sleep patterns
Researchers are also looking into how social media consumption and social isolation affects depression development. As the rates of teen depression and suicide continue to rise, mental health professionals and researchers are doing their part to understand the crisis.
Gender Differences in Teen Depression
Researchers have established that girls are much more likely to experience depression than boys. A recent study found that the rate of suicide among teenage girls has doubled over the last ten years. It’s now estimated that one out of five teenage girls have experienced depression in the last year.
Researchers believe there are a few gender differences that might explain why girls are at a higher risk of developing depression. These include:
- Girls may be more sensitive to distress
- Girls may put more importance on the status of their peer relationships and friendships
- Girls are often exposed to greater social stressors
- Girls may internalize feelings to a greater degree and dwell on stressful issues
Signs of Teen and Child Depression
Parenting a depressed teenager can be very challenging. If a parent has never experienced depression, it can be difficult to know what to do and how to help a depressed teen. Many depressed teens don’t want to talk to their parents about their feelings. Sometimes, a teen may not even know that what they are feeling is depression.
If you think that your teen might be depressed, it’s important to pay attention to their behavior and look for signs of depression. These signs include:
- Persistent sad or “empty” mood
- Restlessness and irritability
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Loss of interest and enthusiasm in hobbies and activities
- Decreased energy or fatigue
- Feeling sluggish
- Reduced appetite
- Insomnia, oversleeping or other sleeping problems
- Persistent physical pains that do not respond to treatment
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and helplessness
- Thoughts of death, suicide and suicide attempts
Teen depression does not necessarily end in the teenage years. Like any mental health condition, depression can be a lifelong disease. Many teens who experience depression continue to feel depressed in their college years as they transition to adulthood. Because of this, it’s important to speak with a health care professional as soon as you suspect that your teen has depression.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” August 2019. Accessed October 13, 2019.
Geiger, A.W.; Davis, Leslie. “A growing number of American teenagers – particularly girls – are facing depression.” Pew Research Center, July 12, 2019. Accessed October 18, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control. “QuickStats: Suicide Rates for Teens Aged 15–19 Years, by Index — United States, 1975–2015.” August 4, 2017. Accessed October 13, 2019.