GROWING PAINS: Experts say more than 3 million teenagers are struggling with depression

Special Reports

The lives of teenagers have changed drastically over the past few decades, and their mental health has been a peak topic of discussion. 

The Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and Children’s Hospital Association came together to declare a National State of Emergency in Children’s Mental Health last month.

3.2 million teens ages 12-17 said they had experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year, according to the most recent study done by the Pew Research Center. This number is up from 2 million in 2007.

According to the most recent survey done by the CDC, 36.7% of students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, compared to 26% in 2009.

Prevalence 

Rebekah Walker, Licensed Professional Counselor, said this number could be attributed to a lack of parent knowledge on the subject, mental health providers, resources and insurance coverage. Walker said teens can often be struggling with something and hiding depression and anxiety so that their parents and others around them are not aware.

“There are so many kids right now who are struggling with depression, and parents are just not aware of it,” said Walker.

According to a Pew Research Center study done in 2018, seven in 10 U.S. teens said depression and anxiety is a major problem among people their age in their community. An additional 26% said depression was a minor problem.

Causes

The peak of this teen mental health crisis may have been sparked by something that most didn’t see coming, such as unhealthy coping habits like vaping, isolation issues due to COVID-19 and altered views of reality from social media. 

Various studies like those from the AACAP along with trends in rising numbers suggest that these factors could be the cause for such high numbers of teens experiencing depression and anxiety. 

The changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic can also be attributed to this mental health crisis according to studies done by the AACAP.

Meaghan English, a junior in high school, expressed the uncertainty many students feel in regards to stability.

“What if we have to go back to how things were last year? You never really know. [COVID] is still around and it’s still going around. You just don’t know,” said English.

In addition to being home for most of 2020, many teens were also taking in large amounts of content from social media. For some teens, seeing influencers on social media whose lives appear to be perfect can cause them to second guess themselves and compare their own lives to those on their screens.

Walker said that the effects of social media could be adding to the natural depression of adolescents that comes with change. She noted that the teenage years are very important and formative. Adolescents go through changes physically, mentally and many start to learn independence.

Numbers

COO and Director of Operations and Programs for Next Step Community Solutions, Brandon Davidson said the need to address concerning results like this is urgent.

“Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness present by 14. So as early as we can address youth mental health issues, the better the outcomes will be.”

Brandon Davidson, Next Step Community Solutions

Next Step Community Solutions is a non-profit that provides counseling to schools across Texas and Davidson said that there has been a 136% increase in the need for their school-based services this year and over the last year.

Davidson said that one in eight young people have made an attempt at suicide in the previous 12 months. 

One out of five adolescents has experienced mental illness, but we need to realize that five out of five of them have mental health to maintain, Daivdson said.

According to the CDC, one in three high school students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019.

Davidson emphasized that destigmatizing mental health and normalizing the idea that it is okay to seek help is very important in making a change.

Erin Young, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and co-owner of the Bridge Therapeutic Services, said “the more [teens] are isolated, the less they communicate what’s wrong and the more they struggle alone.” 

According to Young, the isolation has been excruciating for some.

Coping

Some adolescents do not know how to deal with this, and this period of time amplifies mental health issues and certain feelings that the teens may be experiencing. When these signs go unnoticed, some teens turn to unhealthy coping habits such as vaping. 

“Kids are already stuck on vaping and they’re addicted to it,” said Hannah Everett, a high school senior.

Experts said that about 3.6 million youth are currently using e-cigarettes and that is far too many, considering the legal age to buy these products in different areas of the United States range from 18-21. 

It can be difficult for adults to relate to these new struggles, but Davidson says it’s up to the adults in an adolescent’s life to help them through it.

“Our young people need those protective factors, those coping skills, so that when life’s winds hit them, they can be resilient,” said Davidson.

Growing Pains

All week, KETK is bringing you expert opinions and data on the most pressing factors affecting teenage mental health. Stick with us online and on-air for the latest.


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