Over the past decade, there have been a great number of mental health improvements for teens. For instance, teen pregnancy is at an all-time low, rates of teen cigarette smoking are down significantly, and the rate of drinking alcohol is also down. These are signs that show teens are making healthier choices. However, the quality of mental health for adolescents is still a concern. Teens are still experiencing high rates of depression and anxiety.
Healthy People 2020
In January of 2017, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control published a report called Healthy People 2020 which outlined the progress the country has made in 26 health areas, including mental health. The report explores national health goals for 2020 that were set in 2010. This report discusses the progress made so far.
Fortunately, so far, there is progress in many areas. There is also stagnation, particularly with goals regarding obesity rates in children, teens, and adults. Yet, there are three significant areas where the country has gotten worse, two of these areas have to do with mental health:
- rates of suicide among the general public
- rates of depression among teens
Sadly, other sources confirm that the rates of depression are in fact increasing among teens. So, what’s the reason for this? Why have some health areas improved while depression and anxiety continue to be on the rise for teens?
Contributing Factors to Increased Rates of Depression Among Teens
There may be several factors combined that are contributing to the rise in teen depression. One of these reasons might actually be a positive while the rest point to the need to be more aware, educated, and supportive of adolescents. Here is a list of contributing factors for increased rates of teen depression:
This is a good thing! More and more Americans, as well as health professionals, are recognizing the important role of mental health. Professionals and parents alike are learning that mental health is just as important as physical health. With more and more people becoming aware, there are more reports of teens with depression seeking support. Also, more parents are having their teens screened and more teens are reporting symptoms to their parents. With more teens participating in screenings and treatment, the number of reported teens who are depressed are also rising.
However, awareness is not the only reason why the rate of teen depression is rising. Sadly, research indicates that one of the primary triggers for anxiety and depression for teens is their schoolwork, especially when they need to take exams. Parents, teachers, and school educators may be putting too much pressure on teens. There is not only schoolwork; often, parents want teens to complete chores, explore colleges, seek employment, and participate in extra-curricular activities.
The use of drugs can also contribute to depression, and untreated depression can lead to having suicidal thoughts. Many teens begin to experiment with using drugs and alcohol, and if an adolescent gets hooked on substances, depression can easily set in. Furthermore, many teens in certain areas of the country, including the Midwest and New England have struggled with opioids, such as prescription pain medication and heroin. Substance use can quickly contribute to depression, and in many cases, teens might choose to use substances because they are depressed.
Another issue that comes up again and again is that teens are not getting the kind of connection they need. Sure, they may be interacting with one another via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. But what kind of connections are these really? Are teens having face-to-face, one-to-one, real life connections with others? Researchers have found that when teens interact with their peers solely on social media, especially if their time on social media is excessive, it impairs their psychological health. Along these lines, if teens don’t have a person in their lives that believes in them and takes an interest in them, they begin to feel as though their lives don’t matter, which in turn, can lead to depression.
Lack of Community
Another similar reason behind seeing more depression may be teens lacking community, that is, community that gives them a sense of belonging and fitting in. The social experience for many teens can be competitive and intense. When teens have a hard time fitting in with their peers, this can severely impact their mental health. However, when teens are able to be a part of a group where they feel loved, accepted, and cared for, their emotional and psychological health typically thrive.
These may be a few reasons behind the increase in rates of depression among teens. These reasons reveal that there are more ways in which teens need help. They need community, healthier ways of relating with one another, less pressure from the adults in their lives, and help with staying away from drugs and alcohol. Furthermore, with increased awareness there can be more screenings and mental health treatment.
What Parents Can Do
If parents are concerned about their teen, they can take action in a few different ways. These include:
- educate themselves on the illness of depression and how it might impact their teens
- look for warning signs for teen depression
- seek treatment if necessary
- continue to monitor your teen if you have concerns
- talk to your teen about how they are feeling
- talk to your teen about mental health in general
- engage in self-care activities with your teen, such as deep breathing, meditation, exercise, or using a gratitude journal
It’s important to know that seeking treatment is an essential part of the process. Many parents might not give depression the attention it deserves. For instance, some parents believe that depression is a normal part of adolescence. However, experts know that while depression is not a normal part of being a teen, an adolescent might be more vulnerable to depression because of the drastic changes that take place during adolescence. Lastly, parents might need to monitor and treat their own depression. The parent-teen relationship can, in some cases, be severely impacted by the illness of depression.
Depression is a very serious disease that can impair a teen’s quality of life, lead to suicidal thinking, and get in the way of enjoying their life. Early intervention and treatment can stop depression in its tracks!