According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 17 percent of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 had at least one major depressive episode in 2020. Females experienced nearly three times as many episodes as males, and these episodes are more likely to increase as kids progress through their teen years.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 42 percent of students felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021. These feelings were more common among LGBTQ+ students, as well as females and racial and ethnic groups.
The number of teens reporting poor mental health has been increasing, and many cases continue to go undiagnosed or unreported. Let’s take a look at what teen depression is, why teen depression has become more common, and the warning signs of teen depression that could be causes of concern.
Depression is a mental health disorder that may be diagnosed when a teen has ongoing feelings of sadness that interferes with their ability to function socially, emotionally, physically, and/or academically.
The teen years represent a period of major change in life, which can cause teens to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed.
“There are a lot of changes, biologically and physically, and they can happen very quick,” said Kelly Rivadeneyra, MSW, LCSW at Nutley Family Service Bureau. “Teens could be questioning their sexuality or gender identity. Changes in environment, like going from middle school to high school, with different demands and expectations, can be difficult for teens to process.”
Teens are in a stage of development in which they’re trying to understand or define their individuality, but also trying to be part of a social circle or group of friends. They often wonder if they’re adequate or good enough to fit in.
“Social status can weigh on teens,” Kelly said. “With social media, kids are looking at what other kids are doing, comparing their lives to others, and experience the fear of missing out. They might think ‘I’m not doing that’ or ‘I don’t look like that,’ which causes feelings of inadequacy to bubble up in their minds. Some are affected by cyberbullying.”
The American Psychological Association also points to world events and crises that can contribute to depression, including the Covid, mass violence, natural disasters, climate change, and political polarization.
One of the biggest warning signs of teen depression is a change in mood. When you think of depression, you may picture someone feeling sad or down all the time. While that is often the case, teens may be experiencing feelings of apathy that affect their behavior.
“Teens with depression often show little interest in spending time with friends and family and other activities they used to enjoy,” Kelly said. “They spend a lot of time in their room in isolation, which can affect other areas of their life. They might not be keeping up with school responsibilities, or their appetite and sleep patterns change.”
Conversely, teens struggling with depression may behave rebelliously or impulsively without thinking things through or have bouts of unexplained crying. Teen depression can also manifest physically through headaches, stomach pain, or muscle pain, so it’s always a good idea to rule out a medical condition.
The good news is that teens are resilient, and awareness of teen depression and mental health services has never been higher. In the next article, we’ll discuss what parents and loved ones can do if they notice warning signs of teen depression, how to approach and help a teen in this situation, and how counseling can help.
The most important thing to remember is that you’re not alone. Help is available for teen depression, right in your own backyard. We’ll always respect your privacy and immediate appointments are available. If you know a teen who you believe may be dealing with depression, call the Mental Health Center at NFSB at 973-667-1884 to schedule an appointment.