New Study Shows Teenage Depression Rates Rising

A new depression study report released by BlueCross BlueShield on May 10 shows that depression is affecting millions of Americans. And it is on the rise among all age groups.

According to the new report, diagnoses of major depressive disorder have risen 33 percent since 2013. In fact, this mental health condition now affects an estimated 9 million commercially insured Americans. In addition, teen depression rates are increasing even more quickly.

Major Depression Study

Moreover, major depression is the second most impactful condition on overall health for these Americans, the report says. Hence, it is second only to hypertension (high blood pressure).

Also, women are diagnosed with major depression at higher rates than men. In fact, 6 percent of women receive this diagnosis vs. 2.8 percent of men. In a depression study such as this, the findings are common.

The BlueCross BlueShield (BCBS) Health Index draws from billions of claims made by more than 41 million people with commercial health insurance. Furthermore, it encompasses Americans from birth through age 65. Consequently, it offers a comprehensive picture of the state of physical and mental health in the United States.

“Major depression is a complex condition that has a substantial impact on overall health and wellness. It is crucial to effectively address and manage this condition to improve the health of all Americans.”

—BlueCross BlueShield Health of America Report

An Epidemic of Teen Depression

The report found that diagnoses of major depression are rising fastest among those under age 35. As a result, diagnoses have gone up 47 percent since 2013 among millennials (ages 18–34).

Plus, the rate for adolescents (ages 12–17) has risen 63 percent since 2013—47 percent for boys and 65 percent for girls. Therefore, teen depression rates are  increasing.

According to the report, “these quickly rising rates of diagnosed major depression in younger age groups can have broader implications on future healthcare needs as they grow into later adulthood.” Therefore, as the report states, effective diagnosis and management of major depression is crucial in these early years. Furthermore, treatment is the most important influence on an adolescent’s future health and wellness.

Newport Academy mental health resources: Depression Rates Rising

The Link Between Depression and Other Health Conditions

Beyond the rise in rates of major depression, the BCBS Health of America Report uncovered a link between depression and poor overall health. Especially relevant, people diagnosed with major depression are nearly 30 percent less healthy on average than those not diagnosed with major depression.

In fact, the depression study found that 85 percent of people who are diagnosed with major depression also have one or more additional serious chronic health conditions. Moreover, 30 percent of those have four or more other health conditions.

As a result, both men and women with depression lose an average of 10 years of healthy life. Moreover, people diagnosed with major depression use healthcare services more than twice as often as other insured Americans. And they spend twice as much money on healthcare.

The report also discovered that people diagnosed with major depression, compared to those who are not, are

  • Twice as likely to also suffer from one or more other chronic diseases
  • Three times as likely to suffer from pain-related disorders and injuries
  • Seven times as likely to suffer from alcohol or substance use disorders.

Newport Academy mental health resources: Depression Rates Rising

What Is Major Depression?

People with major depression, a severe depression that can incapacitate those who are suffering, find it difficult or impossible to do normal daily activities, such as working, studying, sleeping, and eating. Furthermore, those who have had one episode of major depressive disorder are at high risk of having another.

Major depression is also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression. It is one of the forms of depression that has the most severe symptoms. Consequently, it can rise in bouts and last for a long period of time. Therefore, it significantly affects quality of life in all areas.

Symptoms include the following:

  • Loss of interest in activities or relationships that used to be enjoyable
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Having a hard time concentrating
  • Unexplained aches and pains, headaches and stomach problems
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness
  • Sense of despair, sadness, and hopelessness
  • Recurring thoughts of suicide or death
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Using alcohol or drugs to self-medicate their feelings.

In addition, teens with major depression are at increased risk of suicide. Thus, early diagnosis and treatment is vital to save teens’ lives.

What Causes Teen Depression?

Major depression in adolescents, as well as adults, can stem from a variety of causes.

It can be triggered by a loss of a loved one, social isolation, major life changes, trauma as a result of abuse, or conflicts in personal relationships. However, today’s teens also face issues that were unknown to past generations.

Social media is a primary source of anxiety and pressure for adolescents. Teens become depressed when they compare their lives unfavorably to the people they follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Moreover, scientists have found correlations between teen smartphone use and depression. Excessive use of technology damages relationships, education, and extracurricular activities.

Many teens experience some degree of academic pressure. In addition, an uncertain economy and tough competition for college and graduate school make that pressure worse.

Teens typically experience their first romantic relationships in high school or college. While this is an essential part of teen development, teen relationships can also be emotionally challenging.

Today’s teens have fewer coping skills. Parents try to shield them from experiencing failure and disappointment. Therefore, teens often have fewer chances to build resilience. Thus, they don’t learn how to cope with challenges.

The adolescent brain is still growing. Hence, teens have an immature prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls self-regulation. Thus, they have a limited ability to exert control over their impulses. Consequently, this leads to teenage risk behaviors, such as substance abuse and unsafe sexual choices.

Today’s adolescents spend so much time on screens that they don’t get outside enough. Hence, they suffer from nature deficit disorder, a phrase coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods. Because teens and children are spending less time outdoors, they experience a wide range of behavioral and mental health problems.

Newport Academy mental health resources: Depression Rates Rising

Treating Teen Depression with a Holistic Approach

Medication is not the only approach for addressing teen depression. In fact, studies show that clinical and holistic methods can be equally or more effective than antidepressant medication.

Clinical therapy modalities: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and interpersonal psychotherapy are proven to be effective in treating depression in adolescents.

Exercise: In one 11-year depression study of 33,908 adults, researchers found that 12 percent of depression cases could be prevented completely with only one hour of exercise each week. Moreover, another study found that only 30 minutes of exercise three times per week was as effective as antidepressant drugs.

Nutrition: Diet can be a powerful method for relieving teen depression. In a study known as the SMILES Trial (Supporting the Modification of Lifestyle in Lowered Emotional States), one-third of participants experienced remission from depressive symptoms after three months of a healthy diet. Good nutrition is very healing.

Newport Academy mental health resources: Depression Rates Rising

Mindfulness practice: A review study at Johns Hopkins found that meditation is just as effective as medication for teenage anxiety and depression. Meditation reduces depression by calming the nervous system and reducing “wandering mind,” which is associated with unhappiness.

In conclusion, the depression study shows teen depression is on the rise in the United States. In addition, this impacts young adults and older adults. However, adolescent depressive disorders are treatable. Therefore, teens can fully recover and thrive in their lives and relationships. Finally, the key to recovery is early detection, leading to diagnosis and treatment.

Images courtesy of unsplash

Sources 

Major Depression: The Impact on Overall Health

Am J Psychiatry. 2018 Jan 1;175(1):28-36. 

Psychosom Med. 2000 Sep-Oct;62(5):633-8.

JAMA Intern Med. 2014;174(3):357-368.