Teen depression is a crisis that affects many families across the country. Teen suicide has climbed exponentially in the past decade, with the pandemic increasing those numbers at an alarming rate.
Mental health disorders have only been studied extensively in the past few decades and have troubling effects on youth. Young girls have reportedly experienced more depression than male students in high school, but more young boys commit suicide than their female counterparts.
Many of us observing sadness or anger in teens tend to chalk it up to hormone imbalances, adolescent emotions, or school stress. We have a habit of using our own life experiences as templates for understanding what teenagers go through on a daily basis. But we fail to realize that adolescent experiences vary based on the person, especially between those who’ve had a healthy childhood versus those who’ve had unhealthy ones.
Teen depression is a complicated, deadly issue with severe, long-term consequences if left unaddressed. The National Institute of Mental Health found in 2017 that roughly 14% of U.S. teens ages 12-17 will have at least one depressive episode.
This leads us to ask ourselves: Why do so many teens struggle with anxiety and depression? Well, there are many triggers for adolescent depression that range from academic pressure, behavioral changes, physical changes, college admission stress, etc. And research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has shown that social media increases a teen’s likelihood of struggling with body dysmorphia, heavy anxiety, and self-harm tendencies.
New studies in behavioral health have provided us with many examples of school, social, and societal pressures causing teens to isolate themselves from loved ones. Suicide was recently discovered to be the second-leading cause of death for anyone ages 15-24. And unfortunately, the chances of a child recognizing the signs of depression and reaching out to a trusted adult for help are incredibly low.
Contrary to popular belief, depression doesn’t magically fix itself on its own, and it isn’t something to simply “get over” by keeping busy with school and other activities. It’s not a result of “teen drama” and often requires proper treatment and external help to manage.
Untreated teen depression results in emotional and behavioral mental health issues that carry into adulthood. It prevents a child from learning healthy coping skills to manage stress and anxiety — resulting in a skewed sense of self-worth and a constant stream of self-criticism.
Depression can have spiraling effects on family members as well. Parents find themselves feeling helpless as they watch their children withdraw from the family unit. Sometimes their desperation to fix the problem causes them to use forceful methods to encourage their child to speak up.
This practice doesn’t work and only worsens the impact of anxiety and depression. It’s vital to keep healthy, open communication with teenagers as they get older. This allows for an environment of acceptance that promises love, understanding, and lack of judgment.
Causes of Teen Depression
We have yet to discover what exactly causes depression. There could be a variety of triggers that put a child’s mental state at risk. Depression can stem from changes in brain chemistry, a history of anxiety, inherited behavioral tendencies, drug influence, and many other things. Or it could simply start from emotionally charged, stressful situations that send a student’s anxiety into an upward spiral.
Unfortunately, teen years are a mix of adolescent and adult struggles that allow depression to have a large platform to launch from. Struggles like poverty, toxic home environments, divorce, and other sizable issues can coincide with standardized tests, required classes, and future college admissions.
Self-esteem also has a huge role to play during high school years. Crippling self-doubts about personality or physical appearance can dig into a child’s sense of self-worth. This turns a teen’s mental state into a playground for depression, especially if these feelings come from bullying or other external abusive factors.
Thankfully, there are preventive measures we can take to lower the chances of depression affecting our loved ones. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says anxiety and depression can be managed by adding healthy routines into day-to-day life.
For example, having an eating plan centered around fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and lean proteins can improve overall physical and mental well-being. Similarly, physical activity, relaxation techniques (like meditation), and the right amount of sleep (which erases piling sleep debt) can help manage the symptoms of depression.
This, of course, should not be taken as a substitute for treatment but more as an addition to it.
Easy-to-Miss Signs of Teen Depression
Sometimes silence can be the loudest cry for help. It’s easy to miss signs of depression in teenagers, especially with those who have a complicated parent-child relationship. It’s important to remember adult depression doesn’t have the same symptoms as teen depression.
For example, an adult may withdraw themselves from their loved ones and spend extended periods of time all alone. Teens, however, will withdraw while still keeping in contact with some of their close friends.
Depression causes adults to get little rest, whereas teens cannot sustain a constant state of restlessness and fall asleep at odd hours during the day. An adult mind is more able to understand that depression doesn’t last forever, but a teenage one is more likely to think of depression as a constant state of being.
Adults reported overpowering levels of sadness, whereas teens reported overpowering levels of frustration with their surroundings. High schoolers tend to have “teenage tantrums,” but it’s crucial for parents to pay attention to how often they’re happening. Parents should look for:
- feelings of sadness (sometimes leading to crying spells)
- loss of interest in hobbies
- feelings of worthlessness or guilt, or exaggerated self-criticism
- trouble concentrating or making decisions (brought on by self-doubt).
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a list of measures to take in case there’s a reason to suspect someone near you might be considering suicide. The list includes:
- asking them if they’re thinking about killing themselves
- listening without judgment
- stay with the person until you can get further help
- remove any harmful objects, and call 911 if it’s an emergency.
Risks of Teen Depression
Teen depression is a gateway to many other problems, such as drug misuse, eating disorders, and as mentioned earlier, self-harm tendencies.
The CDC states that youth with substance use disorders also experience higher rates of physical and mental illnesses, diminished overall health and well-being, and potential progression to addiction—proving that teen substance misuse has a high risk of being directly tied with adolescent depression.
Studies have found that the brain continues to develop well into a person’s early twenties, making the mind most susceptible to the effects of drug misuse during the teenage years. There are severe risks to teen drug misuse, such as the future development of heart disease, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders.
Eating disorders are another reason why depression must be monitored very carefully. Most of them start with at least a mild form of body dysmorphia (a mental health disorder where a person has an obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance) that later fuels a chronically depressive state of mind.
The National Eating Disorders Association states that roughly 11% of teenagers with anorexia nervosa and 50% with bulimia nervosa will experience depressive symptoms in conjunction with their eating disorder symptoms.
Other, more drastic risks include self-harm practices such as cutting, scratching, or burning parts of the body. These are slightly harder to notice as it is common for people to have full-covered clothing preferences all throughout the year. However, it doesn’t hurt to be aware of anyone showing earlier stated signs of depression and wearing long sleeves and long pants in hot weather.
Social Media and Teen Anxiety
Our current technological era encourages all of us to have an online persona. It’s common for teens to use Snapchat, Instagram, or Twitter to express themselves, keep up with friends, and learn more about the world. When used correctly, these platforms can be fantastic for fostering connections, creativity, and self-expression. But behind all the glam and glitz of social media lies the greater issue of its effects on adolescent mental health.
Harvard Graduate School of Education discovered a link between social media and teen anxiety. Although the research had varied results, it showed a rise in side effects that contribute to depression such as sleeplessness, loneliness, and online dependency.
It was hard to determine whether social media usage was a root cause of teen depression or if the depression itself caused teens to use social media apps as an escape. Regardless, the data supported that social media-induced stressors fed into teen insecurities and enhanced adolescent anxiety.
Surveys conducted by the university showed “Teens felt empowered and excited when they shared important aspects of their identities with others. But they also worried about being judged by peers and expressed anxiety over not getting enough likes.”
There are several ways social media triggers cause a child’s sense of self-worth to further deteriorate. Some of the most common ones include:
- Pressure to constantly maintain a “happy” lifestyle
- Inadequacy resulting from seeing others succeed (without any drawbacks)
- The need to verify self-image with “likes” and “comments”
- Constant communication—causing a child to feel overwhelmingly lonely without it
Cyberbullying is yet another serious danger of excessive social media usage. It’s easier to bully someone behind a screen when the likelihood of coming face to face with them is slim. Young girls especially are socially conditioned to compare themselves with others, placing them at a greater risk of online bullying than male students.
Self-esteem is an important aspect of ourselves to foster at an early age. Social media could potentially cause damage to that by stretching our persona into multiple accounts. The Child and Mind Institute reported, “The more identities you have, and the more time you spend pretending to be someone you aren’t, the harder it’s going to be to feel good about yourself.”
Thankfully there are ways to minimize the risks of online use in your household without having to completely ban social media. A few methods include:
- Creating technology-free hours and zones in the house (a common example: no phones at the dinner table!)
- Friending and monitoring your kid’s social media accounts from an outsider perspective
- Getting teens involved in technology-free activities (such as sports, art, music, etc.)
- Catching up with loved ones in person
- Learning about and encouraging body positivity
- Turning phone notifications off (especially social media ones)
- (In cases of cyberbullying) reporting and blocking accounts that harass your child online
The Long-Term Effects of Teen Depression
Adolescent depression can have scary effects on your child’s future if not taken care of immediately. Drug addiction is one of the most common coping mechanisms for anxiety and can manifest into long-term health problems.
Some of the risks of drug dependency include addiction, intensified feelings of loneliness, and overdosing. But there are a few lesser-known risks that pose a serious threat to your teen’s physical health if overlooked.
Clinical depression left untreated could lead to:
- heart disease
- a weakened immune system
- biological changes in the brain
- Heart attacks
- Coronary artery disease
- Depleted self-confidence
- Inability to maintain personal relationships
Long-term depression also can affect a person’s ability to take care of their basic health needs. Research has even shown that depression can impact treatment efforts for other persisting medical conditions and illnesses.
Teen Depression Treatment Options
It can be hard to learn your loved one is dealing with depression and even more difficult to navigate your role in their life while they’re overcoming it. The first step starts with getting them the help they deserve.
Bricolage Behavioral Health offers teen counseling services that cater to the child’s needs as we help them work through adolescent depression. Our child and adolescent psychiatric services offer several treatment options to help your teen overcome any issues with mental health or addiction. Similarly, our intensive outpatient therapy provides care for common and uncommon disorders like ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) or teen PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
In fact, we cover all kinds of adolescent health issues through services like behavioral and mental health resources, adolescent addiction treatment, adolescent intensive outpatient therapy, child psychiatric services, and adolescent alcoholism treatment programs.
Raising kids is not easy, and it’s even more difficult to watch them struggle at home and in school without being able to help. Sometimes it takes a little extra assistance to get your teen the help they require. Our behavioral and mental health resources include finding out your teen’s diagnosis and assisting them in creating an individualized treatment plan that helps them and the entire family start healing.
At Bricolage, we take teen depression very seriously and hope to educate parents on the signs, stigmas, and dangers surrounding adolescent anxiety. We aspire to provide a supportive environment that allows people to become the best versions of themselves. Visit our website to schedule a free consultation today or get your loved one the help they deserve by calling (469) 968-5700.
What is the main cause of depression among youth?
No one knows what exactly causes depression in young minds. However, there are many triggers that factor into teen depression, like negatively impacted self-esteem, a history of anxiety, inherited behavioral tendencies, overwhelming stress, and a lack of proper sleep. Teen depression and anxiety have grown substantially over time, causing suicide rates in the United States to rise by 47% from 2000 to 2017.
How do I know if my teenager is mentally ill?
Teenagers exhibit some easy-to-miss signs of depression such as:
- feelings of sadness and inadequacy (sometimes leading to crying spells)
- loss of interest in hobbies
- feelings of worthlessness or guilt, or exaggerated self-criticism
- trouble concentrating or making decisions (brought on by self-doubt)
At what age do teens get depressed?
Teen depression ranges greatly from ages 12-17. However, new studies in behavioral health have discovered that suicide is the second-leading cause of death for anyone ages 15-24.
What are the 3 most serious symptoms of depression?
- Low self-esteem: feelings of worthlessness that stem from a number of triggers like lack of support, bad influences, or stressful life events. Some of these triggers could be worsened by social media use.
- Crippling self-doubt: an utter lack of confidence that leads you to feel like you can’t trust yourself to make the right decisions or be productive in situations. It’s vital that we gain confidence in our own abilities at a young age.
- History of depression: a family history with behavioral health issues or tendencies that make a person more susceptible to depression. To clarify, nobody simply inherits depression from their parents, but they can inherit a combination of genes that increase their risk for certain mental health disorders.