A study that appeared in the November, 2016 issue of Pediatrics (the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics), revealed that the rates for depression in adolescents have increased over the past several years, from 8.7% in 2004 to 11.3% in 2014, a 37% increase. The increase has especially hit girls, where the incidence of major depressive episodes (MDE) increased from 13.1% in 2004 to 17.3% in 2014.
The authors of the study suggested that teenage girls have been exposed to more depression risk factors in recent years than boys, including cyberbullying and problematic mobile phone uses such as texting which has been linked to depressed mood. As Psychologist and author Catherine Steiner-Adair has noted in an NPR article entitled ”Depression Strikes Today’s Teen Girls Especially Hard,” “We know girls are very vulnerable to defining themselves in comparison to others.” She says that her clients frequently tell her that they get their “entire identity” from their phone, constantly checking the number of “tags, likes, Instagram photos and Snapchat stories.”
Perhaps most disturbingly, the authors of the Pediatrics study note that the treatment rates for adolescent depression remained stable during that ten-year period, and as the researchers point out: ”In view of the growing prevalence of MDE in these age groups, stable treatment rates translate into a growing number of untreated depressed adolescents.”
These results should cause all those who have teenagers in the family or work with adolescents (and adolescent girls in particular) to be alert for signs of depressed mood (including sleep disturbance, high stress levels, suicidal ideation, fatigue, anxiety, and negative thinking), and refer these teens to appropriate mental health facilities where they can be helped.
It also should wake up secondary school educators to the need to address mental health issues in the classroom, including the use of mindfulness meditation to reduce stress, personalization strategies that give students the opportunity to feel a sense of autonomy (e.g. through project-based learning), and affective learning strategies that provide teens with an opportunity to explore their emerging identities (e.g. autobiographies, journaling etc.).
To learn more about these types of educational interventions, see my book The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students.