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Your teen years are full of significant changes. Physically, mentally, and socially — your brain, body, and environment are going through a major evolution.
You might feel bogged down from the demands of high school and college assignments piling up. Or you may feel sadness about transitioning to a more independent and unfamiliar life. Throw in a worldwide pandemic, and it’s no surprise that uneasy feelings are on the rise, as shown by recent teen depression statistics and research.
These changes can easily become overwhelming. Understandably, you might shut down, become irritable, or lose interest in the activities that previously made you light up.
While these responses are valid and usual, depression is a condition that’s much more serious than fleeting teen moodiness.
If negative emotions are keeping keep you from functioning like you usually do, or you’ve experienced a sense of hopelessness for more than 2 weeks, you might want to consider treatment for depression.
1. It’s more common than you might think
Everyone goes through a rough patch or feels listless on occasion. But major depression is a leading cause of disability in the United States, and teens are becoming the most likely group to screen for symptoms of this mental health condition.
Data shows that depression affects high numbers of young people:
- Data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health showed that 3.2% of children ages 3 to 17 had a depression diagnosis. The frequency of depression diagnosis tends to increase as children enter their teen years.
- Around 3.2 million teens ages 12 to 17 had one major depressive episode in 2017.
- According to a 2021 Mental Health America (MHA) report, severe major depression has increased in youth to 9.7%. This is an increase from 9.2% in 2020.
The 2021 MHA report also states that youth ages 11 to 17 were the most likely age group to score in the moderate-to-severe depression categories when screened for mental health conditions.
The symptoms of depression might be a bit different in teens and adults. You can read about the symptoms of depression in teens here.
2. Depression rates are higher in females and gender minority teens
While depression can affect teens of any sex and gender identity, a study published by the
When comparing male and female depression rates, depression continues to present at a higher rate in females than males from the teen years into adulthood.
Also, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, risk factors leading to depression are highest among adolescents and young adults who identify with a gender minority, such as transgender, genderqueer, and nonbinary.
3. Teens with two or more racial or ethnic identities report the highest rates of depression
Your teen years are often called the “coming-of-age” era for a reason. You’re discovering, questioning, and deciding many aspects of your identity, including what your cultural, racial, and ethnic identity means in your life.
This, coupled with societal pressures and prejudices, can reasonably leave you feeling stressed and emotionally shaken up.
Teens ages 12 to 17 years old with more than one racial identity are the most at-risk racial or ethnic group to report a major depressive episode, according to data published by Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services in 2017.
American Indian/Alaskan Native teenagers reported the second highest rates of depression at 16.3%.
4. LGBTQ+ teens are at greater risk for depression
Recent research shows that sexual identity can impact rates of depression among teens. The
But factors like supportive parents and an accepting atmosphere at school can also decrease the risk of depression in LGBTQ+ adolescents.
5. Most teens with depression are not receiving treatment
Depression is not a weakness, and you should never feel ashamed of a depression diagnosis. While major depression is a widespread mental health condition, it still requires attention and professional treatment.
You may be tempted to ignore your negative feelings and symptoms associated with depression, but a consistent treatment plan is vital for depression management.
Left untreated, depression has a higher chance of recurring throughout your lifetime.
According to the MHA, the majority of adolescents with depression — 60% — did not receive treatment for their major depression from 2017 to 2018. Further, more than two-thirds of adolescents diagnosed with depression did not continue with consistent treatment.
6. COVID has increased depression and uncertainty in teens
As if the normal stressors and changes happening during your teen years weren’t enough, for many, the pandemic has upended any remaining sense of normalcy and routine as well.
Quarantine, loss of social interactions, illness, fear of illness, the loss of loved ones, and financial distress are only some of the compounding and life-altering stressors that teens have faced since March 2020.
These changes have had a lasting physical and psychological impact on U.S. society. According to teen depression statistics in the Stress in America 2020 survey, Generation Z teens and young adults ages 13 to 23 years old have reported increased uncertainty and depression symptoms.
For all ages, loneliness and isolation trended as the top reason for uncertainty and mental health conditions during the pandemic.
7. There’s no single cause of depression
Depression often brings deeply negative or apathetic feelings, but it’s important to remember that these emotions do not reflect any character flaws.
In fact, depression often stems from events outside of your control, such as:
- early childhood trauma
- a major life crisis
Depression can also accompany or become exacerbated by existing medical conditions. These include:
- poor sleep
- chronic pain
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- substance use disorder
Of course, depression can also develop without a specific triggering event or preexisting condition, just as it can result from numerous sources. Exploring the causes of your depression with a professional can help you determine the most effective treatment plan.
8. There are many types of depression
If you feel depressed, it does not automatically mean you have a depressive disorder. Depression may be a symptom of another physical or psychological medical condition.
Depression could also be a natural response to a major stressor and does not indicate that you’ll need to prepare to live with recurring depression.
Some types of depression include:
- major depressive disorder (MDD)
- seasonal depression
- peripartum depression
- postpartum depression
- persistent depressive disorder
- premenstrual dysphoric disorder
No matter what form your depression takes, it’s important to work with a medical professional to identify the type of depression you are experiencing and, ultimately, develop a treatment plan tailored to your needs.
When you’re already managing the challenging emotions associated with depression, acknowledging the condition and opening up to someone can feel difficult. But overcoming this hurdle is the first task to getting proper treatment.
Let a parent or guardian know about the depression symptoms you’ve been experiencing so you can ultimately get an appointment with a medical professional.
A doctor can talk with you about medical conditions that mimic depressive symptoms or refer you to a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, or therapist to help with a depressive disorder.
Treatment for depression might include psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of the two, depending on what works best for you.
Want to know more? You can read all about treatments for depression here.
If you’re having trouble finding the right words to communicate your symptoms, try taking a screening tool, such as this one on the Mental Health America website.
A screening tool will help you personally evaluate the severity of your symptoms and provide the terminology to describe your symptoms to a parent or medical professional.
Remember, depression is extremely common and becoming more widespread as the pandemic shakes up our society’s usual structure. But you don’t have to live with depression symptoms without support. Reaching out to an adult for assistance with depression during your teen years can reap a lifetime of benefit.
For more information about teenage depression, look to reliable resources like the National Institute of Mental Health, Mental Health America, the
7 Facts You Should Know About Depression
Nancy Schimelpfening, MS is the administrator for the non-profit depression support group Depression Sanctuary. Nancy has a lifetime of experience with depression, experiencing firsthand how devastating this illness can be.
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Depression is a very real and treatable illness. But myths, misunderstandings, and stigma continue to be barriers to treatment for many, and the consequences of untreated depression can be life-threatening. Understanding the facts about depression, on the other hand, can save lives. Here are seven things everyone should know about depression and depressive disorders.
- Depression is the most common mental health disorder in the United States among teens and adults.
- 2.8 million youth age 12-17 had at least one major depressive episode in 2014.
- Between 10 to 15 percent of teenagers have some symptoms of teen depression at any one time.
- About 5 percent of teens are suffering from major depression at any one time
- As many as 8.3 percent of teens suffer depression for at least a year at a time, compared to about 5.3 percent of the general population.
- Most teens with depression will suffer from more than one episode. 20 to 40 percent will have more than one episode within two years and 70 percent will have more than one episode before adulthood. Episodes of teen depression generally last about 8 months.
- Dysthymia, a type of mild, long-lasting depression, affects about 2 percent of teens, and about the same percentage of teens develop bipolar disorder in their late teenage years. 15 percent of teens with depression eventually develop bipolar disorder.
- A small percent of teens also suffer from seasonal depression, usually during the winter months in higher latitudes.
Teen depression can affect a teen regardless of gender, social background, income level, race, or school or other achievements, though teenage girls report suffering from depression more often than teenage boys. Teenage boys are also less likely to seek help or recognize that they suffer from depression, probably due to different social expectations for boys and girls – girls are encouraged to express their feelings while boys are not. Teenage girls’ somewhat stronger dependence on social ties, however, can increase the chances of teen depression being triggered by social factors, such as loss of friends. Other risk factors that increase the chances of an episode of teen depression include:
- Previous episodes of depression
- Experiencing trauma, abuse, or a long-term illness or disability
- A family history of depression between 20 to 50 percent of teens who suffer from depression have a family member with depression or other mental disorders
- Other untreated problems about two thirds of teens with major depression also suffer from another mental disorder, such as dysthymia, addiction to drugs or alcohol, anxiety, or antisocial behaviors
Teenage Depression: Facts and Statistics - Psychology
It's not uncommon for someone with an anxiety disorder to also suffer from depression or vice versa. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Find out more about depression.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, yet only 43.2% are receiving treatment.
Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. GAD often co-occurs with major depression.
Panic Disorder (PD)
PD affects 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the U.S. population.
Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.
Social Anxiety Disorder
SAD affects 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the U.S. population.
SAD is equally common among men and women and typically begins around age 13. According to a 2007 ADAA survey, 36% of people with social anxiety disorder report experiencing symptoms for 10 or more years before seeking help.
Specific phobias affect 19 million adults, or 8.7% of the U.S. population.
Women are twice as likely to be affected as men.
Symptoms typically begin in childhood the average age-of-onset is 7 years old.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are closely related to anxiety disorders, which some may experience at the same time, along with depression.
Everyone experiences stress and anxiety at one time or another. The difference between them is that stress is a response to a threat in a situation. Anxiety is a reaction to the stress. Read APA: Stress in America: A National Mental Health Crisis (Oct 2020)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD affects 2.2 million adults, or 1.0% of the U.S. population.
OCD is equally common among men and women.
The average age of onset is 19, with 25 percent of cases occurring by age 14. One-third of affected adults first experienced symptoms in childhood.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD affects 7.7 million adults, or 3.5% of the U.S. population.
Women are more likely to be affected than men.
Rape is the most likely trigger of PTSD: 65% of men and 45.9% of women who are raped will develop the disorder.
Childhood sexual abuse is a strong predictor of lifetime likelihood for developing PTSD.
Major Depressive Disorder
The leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15 to 44.3.
MDD affects more than 16.1 million American adults, or about 6.7%of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year.
While major depressive disorder can develop at any age, the median age at onset is 32.5 years old.
More prevalent in women than in men.
Persistent depressive disorder, or PDD, (formerly called dysthymia) is a form of depression that usually continues for at least two years.
Affects approximately 1.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year. (about 3.3 million American adults). Only 61.7% of adults with MDD are receiving treatment. The average age of onset is 31 years old. (Source: National Institute of Mental Health)
Many people with an anxiety disorder also have a co-occurring disorder or physical illness, which can make their symptoms worse and recovery more difficult. It’s essential to be treated for both disorders.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are closely related to anxiety disorders, which some may experience at the same time, along with depression.
Read on to learn more about the co-occurrence of anxiety and these disorders:
Anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.
Anxiety disorders also often co-occur with other disorders such as depression, eating disorders, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Anxiety is as common among older adults as among the young. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is the most common anxiety disorder among older adults, though anxiety disorders in this population are frequently associated with traumatic events such as a fall or acute illness. Read the best way to treat anxiety disorders in older adults.
Anxiety disorders are treatable, and the vast majority of people with an anxiety disorder can be helped with professional care. Several standard approaches have proved effective:
Additional Statistics and Resources
Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Almost 75% of people with mental disorders remain untreated in developing countries with almost 1 million people taking their lives each year. In addition, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 13 globally suffers from anxiety. The WHO reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders worldwide with specific phobia, major depressive disorder and social phobia being the most common anxiety disorders. 2
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS TO LOOK FOR?
The following are some of the signs you might notice in yourself or a friend that may be reason for concern.
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
- Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings.
A Rise In Depression Among Teens And Young Adults Could Be Linked To Social Media Use
During the era that social media and smartphones has risen, depression and stress among young people has also risen.
Roy James Shakespeare/Getty Images
A study published Thursday in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology finds the percentage of U.S. teens and young adults reporting mental distress, depression and suicidal thoughts and actions has risen significantly over the past decade. While these problems also increased among adults 26 and older, the increase was not nearly as large as among younger people.
The study findings suggest a generational shift says psychologist Jean Twenge, with San Diego State University who headed the study and is author of the book iGen. To see a significant increase in negative psychological states "among our vulnerable population of teens and young adults is absolutely heartbreaking," she says.
Twenge and her colleagues analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, a government survey that tracks mental health and substance use in individuals age 12 and over in the U.S. They looked at survey responses from more than 200,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 and almost 400,000 young adults ages 18 and over between 2005 and 2017.
They found the rate of individuals reporting symptoms consistent with major depression over the past year increased 52 percent in teens and 63 percent in young adults over a decade. Girls were more vulnerable than boys. By 2017 one out of every five teenage girls had experienced major depression in the last year.
Rates of psychological distress, which Twenge describes as "feeling nervous, hopeless or that everything in life is an effort" rose by 71 percent among people aged 18 to 25. Suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts also increased. Death from suicide increased by 56 percent among 18- to 19-year-olds between 2008 and 2017.
Understanding exactly why these trends are on the rise is always a challenge, says Twenge, since researchers can only point out correlations, not causes. But, she says, since the trends are "pretty large in a fairly short period of time, that helps us narrow what the likely cause might be."
She thinks the rise in smartphone and social media use is a significant factor. By 2012, smartphones had become widespread, she says, and it's around that same time that social media began to dominate young people's lives. For example, in 2009 about half of high school seniors visited social media sites every day. That's climbed to about 85 percent today, with Instagram and Snapchat replacing Facebook as the main "go to social media site," she says.
It's not just the phone or social media itself, says Twenge. It's the amount of time teens and young adults spend with it. As Twenge found in earlier research, the more time they spend, the greater the risk of depressive symptoms. Twenge says it's known from a body of research that in-person social contact is good for mental health. She questions whether spending that same amount of time on Instagram and Snapchat is just as beneficial, and says "it seems clear the answer is 'No.' "
"Spending time on social media tends not to be in real time," she says. "You're not having a real time conversation with someone — usually you're not seeing their face and you can't give them a hug it's just not as emotionally fulfilling as seeing someone in person."
The findings of the new study ring "completely true" for clinical child psychologist Mary Fristad with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University, who was not involved in the study. Fristad, who treats children from age 10 through to college age, says her patients are concerned "not about how much fun they look forward to having over the weekend, but about what event can they post on Snapchat so that other people will know they have friends."
Fristad says kids are developmentally more worried about peer status and approval during pre-teen and teenage years. Social media exaggerates that process, she says, because it's so public, available, and highly visual. It's like "taking what happens in typical adolescent development and putting it on steroids," she says.
For example, as opposed to "going to school with 'meh' hair suddenly there's a picture of you with 'meh' hair. Everybody's going to see it, can comment on it, make fun of you," she says. These experiences resonate enormously during adolescence and can deeply affect teen's confidence and sense of self.
Other researchers are less convinced of the connection between screen time and mood. It's important to keep in mind that while there has been an increase in negative psychological states, the majority of teens and young people are not depressed, notes Robert Croesner, a researcher in adolescent health and the chair of the Sociology Department at the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved with the research.
And he adds, there could be many other things besides technology contributing to the rise.
"There really aren't data that show a strong connection between these two things," he says. "I think this increase in mental health issues is real and is something we need to be concerned about, but until we know exactly what's causing it, I don't think it's so easy for us to put the blame on any one thing."
Croesner says, to explain the phenomenon, you have to look at the entire context of the historic moment we're living in.
"I think we are living in a time of great uncertainty, where people are unsure about the future of the country but also their own futures," he says. "And that is anxiety provoking for anybody but it's especially true for young people whose whole future is ahead of them."
In the past economic pressures have been linked to increases in depression but Twenge notes that since 2012 the economy has been improving so a failing economy is not likely to blame.
Another explanation could simply be that these teens and young adults are more willing to admit they are stressed, anxious, worried and even depressed and that they need, and want help.
Psychologist Andrew Przybylski, an experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford in Oxford, England, is skeptical of the study findings. "The data is entirely descriptive," he wrote in an e-mail. "I find it very unfortunate that there is undue speculation about the effects of technology." He said the rise in mental health issues could be explained by other factors such as the opioid crisis.
Still Fristad thinks the impact of social media on mental health is a real issue for this age group. Fristad organized a focus group of college students at Ohio State. The students had all received smartphones when they were 13 or 14. What they told her was was in line with current study's findings. The students described "another realm of things to worry about, pressure to build your brand, sharing too much and making unrealistic comparisons to other kids . being constantly on the phone and not engaging in face-to-face interactions."
"There's just a lot of heightened tension around this," says Fristad.
And the advice from her college students for younger kids? "Phones Off, Friends On."
Researcher and clinical psychologist Steve Ilardi, with the University of Kansas tries to help anxious and depressed kids feel better. The good news, he says, is that it's clear that they "intuitively grasp that how we live now is not ideal for us." Teens get that spending hours surfing, bringing their phones to bed, "this relentless cascade of stressful notifications and images is not good for them and they get it."
Ilardi developed a treatment approach, based in part on cognitive behavioral therapy, that helps young people make lifestyle changes, focusing on better diet and nutrition, exercise, exposure to sunlight and getting a good night's sleep, all of which have been shown to reduce depressive symptoms.
"Kids buy into it," says Ilardi, "when you lay it out for them and explain they can be empowered to make changes themselves that can make a big difference in how you feel, how your brain, mind and body functions."
He says behavior change can "help kids get unstuck from their perpetual sense of anxiety, stress and depression."
What's causing the increase?
While the researchers didn't study the reasons behind the trend, they have some theories. Twenge says shifting cultural trends over the past decade, including increased use of electronic communications and digital media , may have had a larger effect on mood disorders among younger generations compared with older generations.
"Recently, there's been a number of studies showing that those who spend more time on digital media are more likely to be depressed and unhappy," Twenge said.
For example, she points to a study of nearly 11,000 adolescents in Britain published earlier this year that found those who were heavy users of social media were two to three times more likely to be depressed as those who did not use social media.
Teens are also not getting as much sleep as much as they did in previous generations and spending less face-to-face time with family and friends, both of which have been associated with depression.
Mary Fristad, PhD, Vice Chair and Director of Research & Psychological Services at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says the study's findings and researchers' conclusions mirror what she sees in her clinical practice.
"I think early and extensive exposure to social media as well as the interruption it can cause in sleep &mdash [for example] being on social media late in the evening, the blue light interferes with falling asleep and alters melatonin production &mdash both can contribute to increased anxiety, depression, and suicidality," she said. Fristad was not involved with the study.
Given that the increase in mental health issues was sharpest after 2011 &mdash a period of economic expansion in the U.S. accompanied by falling unemployment &mdash Twenge believes the trends in mental health are not due to economic woes.
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