Teenagers are expected to be irritable at times and often defiant as they develop independence and struggle to create their own identity. But the increasing rate of depression among teens seems to be something more than common moodiness that comes with adolescence and the shift to young adulthood.
The results of a recent study published in Time magazine show that more than one-third of youth ages 12-to-20 in the U.S. had a major depressive episode within a one-year time period.
The article describes the number of teens struggling with depression, anxiety and self-harm as “staggering.”
It’s not just a crisis for American teenagers. A recent report by ABC News Australia says a study new found that one-in-four teens in that nation “meet the criteria for probable serious mental illness.”
What is going on with young people in these rapidly changing, technologically savvy and economically advantaged countries?
That’s a complex question and it may take researchers decades to find answers. But an issue that’s come to light is that, even if we don’t understand all the causes, the reality is that teen depression is increasing much faster treatment.
Teen anxiety and depression are increasing in urban, suburban and rural regions of the U.S. The issue is spread across economic, ethnic, educational and geographic boundaries.
Florida: Ellen Chance, co-president of the Palm Beach County School Counselor Association, says anxiety and depression are so obstructive in the lives of teenagers that many are unable to concentrate on school work and some are dropping out. She says school counselors are spread thin and often are responsible for 500 students. Efforts are underway, in collaboration with the National Alliance for Mental Illness, to get more school counselors trained to identify mental health disorders.
California: The state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, reported 5,000 cases of suicidal behavior in 2015. Those behaviors include talk of suicide and incidents of self-harm. That’s a disturbing surge since the 2011 year when 255 incidents were reported. School counselors in Los Angeles understand many of their students are faced with challenging conditions, such as single-parent homes, community violence, economic hardship or cyberbullying. The counseling team has come up with a 100-page ‘Blueprint for Wellness’ to help students increase their resilience. The plan includes suggestions for schools, parents, and community groups, and has recommendations for healthy eating and physical education.
Montana: Rural regions have their own specific challenges in dealing with the mental health crisis among teens. School counselors in Montana are seeing a spike in depressive episodes, but there’s a shortage of trained mental health staff to get to schools in the sparsely-populated state. One solution being tried is telephone counseling.
The Five Year Mental Youth Report in Australia, which surveyed thousands of adolescents, found that many more young people ages 15 to 19 are in psychological distress than they were five years ago.
Catherine Yeomans, who is director of Mission Australia, the organization that did the report, called the findings “alarming.” She said the main concerns of teenagers are stress, school and study problems, depression, anxiety and body image.
Researchers and mental health professionals are calling for more outreach to teens, especially where the contact would be accessible and relatively comfortable. Obvious outreach points are middle and high school counselors, pediatricians and primary care doctors, and college health and counseling services.
In the U.S. and Australia, mental health professionals are encouraging education and awareness to reduce the stigma of psychological issues, as well as support for parents and families so they can learn positive steps to support their teenagers. One of the major needs, of course, is funding for mental health programs specifically geared to teenagers.
Sometimes, it may be just teen angst. But when anxiety and depression hang around, teenagers need people and places to support them and help them get onto the path to a healthy emotional life.
Schrobsdorff, Susan, “There’s a Startling Rise in Major Depression Among Teens in U.S.,” Time, Nov. 15, 2016
Ford, Mazoe, “Nearly 1 in 4 Teens Meet Criteria for ‘Probable Serious Mental Illness,” ABC Australia, April 18, 2017