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4/14/19blog post

depression and teens

Our teens are experiencing a dramatic increase in mood disorders. A recent Pew Center Research poll documented that 70% of our teens listed anxiety and depression as major problems, and 26% as a minor problem. These results were consistent for kids regardless of their gender, race, or socioeconomic status.

Kids act on these feelings, and that’s scary for parents, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, and everyone else who interacts with teens.  In 2017, 17.2% of teens seriously considered suicide, a 19% increase over the past 10 years.  Overwhelmed, disengaged, and feeling a burden to others, 7.4% of teens attempted suicide in 2017.

We have to figure out a way to keep our children alive through those high-risk teen years. Research just published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence helps us understand when our kids are most at risk.

Scientists in England monitored over 9,000 youth throughout their adolescence and discovered that teen depression follows an interesting and predictable trajectory.

  • Throughout adolescence, girls had a significantly higher level of depression than boys, except at ages 10 and 11.
  • Both guys and girls had a peak level of depression at around age 20.
  • The trajectory or rate of depression accelerated differently for males and females. The rate of depressive symptoms for girls rose significantly at 13.5 years of age, whereas for boys it was at 16.4 years of age.

These finds are noteworthy, as they allow us to target interventions at critical times before teens are likely to experience severe mood disorders.

If these disorders were a typical medical illnesses, there would be millions of dollars for research, a search for vaccines, and mandatory education in schools. Mental health problems are still viewed by many as personal weaknesses, not real illnesses.

Don’t wait for others to act. If you are the parent of a teen, here is what you can do to help keep your child alive.

  1. Talk about mental health.  It’s not enough to tell your teen about physical changes during puberty and make some passing reference to raging hormones. We know that girls and boys are at the greatest risk at different ages. Talk about this with your kids. Begin a conversation that begins when they are preteens and continues throughout their adolescence.

The gender differences in depression appear to be related to the fact that girls and guys mature at different rates.  How is this related to depression?  Talk to your kids!  They know the answer.

  1.  Help your teen stay mentally healthy. Guide your adolescent in developing authentic and loving relationships, eating well, helping others, experiencing a sense of gratitude, and avoiding toxic relationships. Focus on one of the biggest predictors of teen mental health---adequate sleep.