The statistics on teen depression are sobering. Studies indicate that one in five children have some sort of mental, behavioral, or emotional problem, and that one in ten may have a serious emotional problem. Among adolescents, one in eight may suffer from depression. Of all these children and teens struggling with emotional and behavioral problems, a mere 30% receive any sort of intervention or treatment. The other 70% simply struggle through the pain of mental illness or emotional turmoil, doing their best to make it to adulthood.
The consequences of untreated depression can be increased incidence of depression in adulthood, involvement in the criminal justice system, or in some cases, suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24. Even more shocking, it is the sixth leading cause of death among children ages 5-14. The most troubling fact is that these struggling teens often receive no counseling, therapy, or medical intervention, even though the National Institute of Mental Health reports that studies show treatments of depression in children and adolescents can be effective.
Brown University reported in 2002 that many parents simply do not recognize the symptoms of depression in their adolescent children. They found that even parents who have good communication with their children do not necessarily realize it when a child is depressed (The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, Vol. 18, No 4, April 2002).
Parents should be particularly aware of the risk of depression in children who have had long-term or chronic illnesses, who have been abused or neglected, have experience a recent trauma, or lost a loved one. The National Institute of Mental Health also reports that teenage girls are more likely to develop depression than teenage boys (NIMH, 2000).
Recognizing Adolescent Depression
Parents should investigate further and seek outside help if their child or adolescent expresses (or seems to be experiencing) feelings of sadness, hopelessness, despair, worthlessness, or lack of interest in usual activities. Parents should also be concerned if their teen is having trouble concentrating, cannot make a decision, and has shown a drop in academic performance. Because adolescents do not have the verbal skills of adults, they often cannot express what they are feeling in a way that allows parents to identify depression as the issue. Sometimes physical symptoms may be a way for parents to dig deeper. Headaches, muscle aches, low energy, sudden change in appetite or weight, insomnia or hypersomnia may be physical manifestations of clinical depression. A depressed teen may also seem restless, irritable, anxious, or belligerent. You may notice he or she is having trouble getting along with peers, siblings, and authority figures. Teachers may report the child is skipping classes or not paying attention in class. Your teen might start paying less attention to his or her appearance and hygiene, or may seem to spend much more time alone, possibly even dropping out of the usual activities they enjoy (sports, hobbies, music lessons).
If you are a parent with a teen whose behavior has changed and negative patterns have existed for more than 2 weeks, please contact a local mental health practitioner with expertise in treating children and adolescents to further assess the situation. Depression responds best to therapy and treatment when it is identified early.