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How Many Teens Are Diagnosed With Depression?

Depression is the name for a group of mental health conditions common across the U.S. Most people associate the term with the most severe of these conditions, major depression. You may think of depressive illness as something that only comes with the burdens of adulthood. However, significant numbers of American teenagers grapple with these illnesses every day. Information provided by federal sources allows us to roughly estimate the extent of the problem in the country’s teen population.
signs of depression in teens

Depression Defined

In addition to major depression (i.e., major depressive disorder), mental health specialists can officially diagnose several other depressive illnesses, including:

  • Dysthymia (persistent depressive disorder)
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder, and
  • Substance/medication-induced depressive disorder

They can also diagnose more situation-specific illnesses such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and postpartum depression.

Major depression gets the most attention because it generally produces the most serious symptoms and the greatest level of overall life disruption. Core symptoms of any depressive illness typically include such things as:

  • A lingering “down” or sad mood
  • Disrupted higher-level mental functions (e.g., judgment, memory or concentration)
  • A lingering sense of helplessness, hopelessness or guilt
  • A drop in everyday energy levels
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • An altered appetite, and
  • A declining ability to experience enjoyment or pleasure

Severely depressed people may also contemplate suicide, make actual suicidal plans or actively attempt to kill themselves.

Depression in Teenagers

For a number of reasons, the signs of depression in teens are not always the same as the signs commonly found in adults. For example, a depressed teenager may:

  • Suddenly start avoiding social contact
  • Start hanging out with friends who engage in risky behavior
  • Experience declining grades
  • Start skipping school
  • Make repeated trips to the nurse’s office for unspecified complaints
  • Start dressing differently or stop paying attention to personal appearance, or
  • Engage in “cutting” or some other form of self-harming behavior

As with adults, severe signs of depression in teens may also include suicide-oriented thinking, planning and/or action.

One of the big challenges for parents is telling the difference between normal adolescent behavioral changes and actual depression. Experts generally recommend that you talk to your child and consult a professional for advice instead of disregarding any potential problems you observe.

How Many Teens Are Affected?

Now that you know more about the signs of depression in teens, we can address the question of how many adolescents are affected. Every year, researchers from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) track the number of Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 who develop diagnosable symptoms of major depression. The last available SAMHSA figures on this topic cover the year 2015. In that year, 12.5% of all U.S. teens met the terms for a major depression diagnosis. However, the risk was not evenly distributed among all adolescent groups.

For example, the 2015 SAMHSA figures indicate that just 5.8% of teen boys experience major depression, while the rate among girls is a whopping 19.5%. Age also plays a factor; major depression rates spike significantly at age 15 and remain relatively elevated throughout the rest of adolescence. In addition, major depression rates among teenagers vary substantially by racial/ethnic background. The peak rate (15.6%) occurs in teens with mixed racial/ethnic ancestry, while the lowest rate (9.0%) occurs in teens with an African-American racial/ethnic background. Teens with a European-American background have the second highest major depression rate at 13.4%.



National Institute of Mental Health: Depression

Mayo Clinic: Teen Depression                                                     

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Depression in Children and Teens

National Institute of Mental Health: Major Depression Among Adolescents

Posted on February 28th, 2017
Posted in Articles, Teens

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