Depression among youth is a serious problem that is becoming more widespread. According to SAMHSA’s most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), depression is increasing among young adults and adolescents. The NSDUH found that the percentage of youth aged 18-25 who reported a major depressive episode in the previous year increased from 8.3 percent in 2011 to 9.3 percent in 2014. Even more concerning, the percentage of youth aged 12-17 with depression increased from 8.2 percent to 11.4 percent in the same time period.
What accounts for this increase? Various suggestions include but are not limited to reduced person-to-person interaction, due to the growth of social media and less time spent with families; fewer opportunities for free play and exploration that build problem-solving skills; and exposure to passive media such as television, which is thought to diminish the ability to develop protective mechanisms. SAMHSA is taking the issue of youth depression very seriously, and we have just launched a new effort to examine research into both causes and effective treatments and supports.
Recognizing and treating depression among youth is critically important to our nation’s health. Depression is a risk factor for suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 percent of high school students reported considering suicide in the previous 12 months, and about half of them actually made an attempt. Depression also disrupts school and social relationships, which are critical to healthy development.
More often than not, unfortunately, youth do not get the help that they need. According to NSDUH, among adolescents who reported a major depressive episode, only about 38 percent of males and 42 percent of females reported getting treatment. Again, the reasons why teens do not get treatment are complex. However, one reason is that parents might ignore symptoms of depression, thinking that they are just signs of “moodiness” that all adolescents experience. Fear of discrimination also deters many from seeking mental health care.
One answer to this problem is universal depression screening by primary care physicians. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that all adult and all adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 be screened for depression, even if they do not have any specific risk factors. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies must cover the cost of the screening.
However, it is important for all of us to be more aware of the signs that someone is experiencing depression. The time between health care visits can be long, and it might take years for physicians nationwide to implement USPSTF’s screening recommendations. That’s why SAMHSA supports efforts like Mental Health First Aid and the Campaign to Change Direction, which help people recognize warning signs, such as avoiding fun activities, and changes in sleep or appetite. And programs such as Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency Education) that are building early identification, referral, and school-based mental health treatment capacity.
Treatment for depression can be very effective, particularly interventions that involve family support. SAMHSA promotes a systems of care approach, in which families are involved in making decisions and providing support. Systems of care organize a coordinated network of children’s treatment, services, and supports to help youth succeed at home, at school, and in the community. By working together and helping people get the treatment and support they need, we can support young people in recovery!
SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator: https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/
SAMHSA’s National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357); 1-800-487-4889 (TDD): http://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline