Teen mental health issues are often brushed aside with claims that teens are “just moody” or that it’s a normal part of growing up. While it’s true that raging hormones and the stresses and strains of approaching adulthood do cause mood swings in many teens, there is a big difference between these normal parts of growing up and serious mental health issues like depression and anxiety. For example, the rate of depression in teens — that is, major depressive episodes, not “moodiness” — has been increasing in recent years. Whether you’re a parent, a teen or anybody else concerned about someone you care about, finding out the details helps you determine whether further support is needed.

Teen Mental Health Problems: The Statistics

Overall, about 20% of teens have a diagnosable mental health issue. This includes many different conditions, but the core message is clear: teen mental health issues are very common. About 11% of teens have a mood disorder, 10% have a conduct disorder and about 8% have an anxiety disorder. Additionally, about a quarter of people with mood disorders (including depression) first develop the issues in adolescence, and most people with anxiety or impulse control disorders first develop them in adolescence as well.

The risk of suicide that goes along with these mental health problems underlines the importance of addressing teen mental health. Suicide is the third most common cause of death among young adults and adolescents, and this is more likely in older teens and boys.

Depression in Teens: A Rising Issue, Especially Among Girls

Depression is a particularly common teen mental health problem, and statistics show that the rate of depression in teens is increasing. Using data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2005 to 2014, researchers found that the rate of major depressive episodes — which is having symptoms of major depression for two weeks or more — increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.3% in 2014. This may not seem like a large increase, but in terms of percentages, this means that the rate of depression in teens increased by about 30%, or almost a third. The researchers adjusted for relevant factors like drug use and demographic differences, but the increase remained significant.

However, the worst news from the study is that while depression in teens is increasing, there hasn’t been much change in the rate of use of mental health treatment services. This suggests that there are more and more teens suffering from depression but not receiving treatment for it or professional support of any kind.

Finally, there is one particularly important factor when considering rates of depression in teens: gender. The evidence shows that about 19.5% of teen girls had a major depressive episode in 2015, while just 5.8% of boys did. Incidentally, this data also shows that the increase in depression among teens continued into 2015, too, when 12.5% reported a major depressive episode.

Spotting the Signs of Depression in Teens

For a parent, one of the most important things to do is to stay vigilant and look out for symptoms of depression in teens. These include a lack of enthusiasm or motivation, sadness or hopelessness, lack of energy, problems at school and/or difficulty concentrating, restlessness, being less sociable with friends or family, changes in eating or sleeping habits, unexplained aches or pains, frequent crying and suicidal or morbid thoughts.

The biggest challenge when it comes to spotting teen mental health issues is differentiating between ordinary teen “growing pains” and serious issues. There is no hard-and-fast rule, but in general, while occasional, short-lived bouts of angst or moody behavior is completely normal, sustained and continuous issues often hint at a deeper problem. Think about the severity of the symptoms and how long they’ve been going on. Using the “two weeks or more” definition of a major depressive episode is a useful rule of thumb, but as a parent you’re likely to have a more detailed understanding of what’s unusual for your son or daughter.

The Importance of Getting Help With Teen Mental Health Issues

The most important thing for a parent or a loved one of a teen to remember is that ignoring the problem and hoping it fixes itself isn’t a good strategy. Talking to your teen or getting them to talk to someone else they trust or a professional should be a priority. Open up about the symptoms you’ve noticed, and ask them what they’re going through. The most important thing to do is listen, not lecture, and don’t try to “talk them out of it.” Just acknowledge how they feel and show that you both understand and care. Other tips like encouraging your teen to socialize and exercise can help improve their mood, but if the problem is serious, don’t hesitate to consult a mental health professional.


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