There’s a new epidemic attacking our society: adolescent depression. Over the last decade, the rates have been steadily inclining and the stats are alarming. According to a recent report by BlueCross/BlueShield in 2018 (https://www.bcbs.com/the-health-of-america/reports/major-depression-the-impact-overall-health), the depression rate for adolescents (ages 12–17) since 2013 has risen 63 percent: 47 percent for teenage boys and 65 percent for teenage girls. Recent studies indicate that up to 20% of all teens in the U.S. suffer from clinical depression: that’s one-in-five (https://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/depression-teens).
According to the Johns Hopkins Health Review (fall/winter 2017), around three million young people between 12 and 17 had experienced at least one major depressive episode over the course of a one-year period (https://www.johnshopkinshealthreview.com/issues/fall-winter-2017/articles/the-rise-of-teen-depression). This finding was consistent no matter the geographical location, whether among urban, rural, or suburban populations. Moreover, various alarming behaviors, such as self-harm, have also been growing.
Just about nothing hurts a parent’s heart more than seeing his or her child suffer. We immediately want to step in a take their pain away. In the prime of their lives, our heart’s desire for our children is that they be safe, secure and happy. The presence of clinical depression severely threatens that wish we have for our teenagers. When they hurt, we hurt.
We all know that being a teenager can be difficult, especially with all the physical, psychological and social changes occurring at this pivotal time in life. While it’s normal for young people to experience ups and downs, sometimes depression may become a chronic condition. Contributing to the problem includes such things as unrealistic expectations, romantic relationship heartbreaks, academic pressure, and extracurricular stress. Teens are generally bombarded by various troublesome, self-esteem eroding messages via television, the web, magazines and—perhaps most pervasively—by social media sites (https://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/depression-teens). Their social status, personal values, physical appearance, and sexual orientation are continually being threatened.
With the general increased level of stress in our society, which triggers depression and mood disorders, those who are genetically or personality-wise predisposed to it, are particularly susceptible to the emergence of various symptoms during the confusing and difficult developmental stage of adolescence.
Therese J. Borchard, author of Beyond Blue, states: “I think modern lifestyles – lack of community and family support, less exercise, no casual and unstructured technology-free play, less sunshine and more computer – factors into the equation.” Borchard also speculates regarding the role of environmental factors such as diets of processed fast foods and the possibility of increased exposure to toxins (or carcinogens) in our environment. She wonders if our hectic lifestyles, environmental toxins, and other challenges may increase the stress factors that contribute to depression. I definitely think she’s onto something.
So, what is depression anyhow? This mental health malady “is a medical illness that can interfere with your ability to handle your daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or managing your school work . . . It can occur along with other mental disorders, substance abuse, and other health conditions” (https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/teen-depression-study/).
The uninformed notion of many well-meaning individuals that “it’s all in your head” and that you just need to “snap out of it” or “set your mind on remaining positive” isn’t helpful. In fact, such insensitive statements can cause a sufferer of depression to feel even more ashamed of their illness. You see, “depression is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. Most people with depression need treatment to get better” (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teen-depression/index.shtml/).
Though there are many shades of blue (or varying diagnoses), there are some common symptoms that may be indicative of clinical depression, especially when persisting longer than two weeks. These include the following:
- Poor performance in school
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Sadness and hopelessness (a sense of despair)
- Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation (loss of interest in activities or relationships that used to be enjoyable)
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- Significant weight loss or gain
- Anger and rage
- Overreaction to criticism
- Feelings of being unable to satisfy ideals
- Poor self-esteem (i.e., feelings of worthlessness) or guilt
- Indecision, lack of concentration or forgetfulness
- Restlessness and agitation
- Changes in eating or sleeping patterns (such as insomnia or excessive sleeping)
- Unexplained aches and pains, headaches and stomach problems
- Substance abuse (to self-medicate mental discomfort)
- Problems with authority
- Recurring thoughts of death
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Not caring about appearance
- Running away from home
(See: https://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/depression-teens; https://www.newportacademy.com/resources/mental-health/teen-depression-study/; https://centerfordiscovery.com/blog/todays-teens-depressed-ever/)
Depression is serious business! In next week’s column (Part 2), I will uncover various causes of teenage depression and suggest some remedies. Part 3 will explore suicide risks, symptoms and prevention among teenagers. It is my prayer that we can save precious young lives by raising our awareness and developing a skillset for appropriate intervention.
(This article originally appeared in The Jackson Sun on March 8, 2019.)