Depression is a serious mental health issue among people of all ages but can be especially dangerous for teenagers. Teens sometimes struggle with the transition from childhood to adulthood; greater expectations, new responsibilities, dealing with past abuse, or navigating a difficult social landscape can all contribute to mental health issues. It’s normal for a teen to have a few blue days here or there, but periods of prolonged sadness could mean that they need treatment. Depression can lead to difficulties getting along with family, struggles with scholastic performance or even conflict with authorities. Unfortunately, some depressed teens could turn to harming themselves as a means of dealing with the pain they feel. It is now recommended for teens to be screened for depression to detect issues with their mental health and circumvent the sometimes devastating effects of untreated problems.

The Seriousness of Depression

Depression can lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Increasingly, teens feel overwhelmed by this daily pain, and seeing no other way out, turn to self-harm as a means to escape their hardship. According to the CDC, in 2016 suicide was the second leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 24, second only to unintentional injury.1 The rate of suicide for teen girls more than doubled from 2.4% to 5.1% between 2007 and 2015.2 While the rate for teenage boys only increased by 30%, they are still the group most at risk, with 14.2% of them taking their own lives in 2015.3 No one is sure of the precise reason for this alarming uptick in the teen suicide rate, but there are several theories: cyberbullying, social media use, social isolation, past abuse, substance abuse, poor home life, or coming to terms with being homosexual, bisexual or transgender, especially in a hostile family or school environment.4 5 However, it is clear that the vast majority of teens that commit suicide, around 95%, are suffering from a psychological disorder like depression or bipolar disorder at the time of their death.6 These statistics can be frightening but the medical community is doing its best to respond to the crisis.

Yearly Teen Depression Screenings

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 3.1 million teens suffer from depression, just shy of 13% of teenagers nationwide.7 In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics published new guidelines that recommend all children between 12 and 17 years of age be screened annually for major depressive disorder.8 They advise that teens should complete a depression screening as part of their annual wellness check up. It is suggested that teens speak with their doctors alone in case they have feelings or issues they are uncomfortable discussing in front of their parents. These screenings could very well identify teens struggling with depression or other disorders; this can lend a hand in discerning mental health issues from normal teenage rebellion. The true importance of these screenings is that the sooner a problem is identified, the sooner teens can get the help they need.

What Are the Signs of Teen Depression?

These warning signs could mean a teen is battling depression:9

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Uncharacteristic clashes with family, school staff or authorities
  • Little interest or pleasure in doing things
  • Trouble with sleep, either sleeping too much or too little
  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Binge eating or refusing to eat
  • Expressing feelings of worthlessness
  • Severe mood swings like irritability, restlessness, sadness or rage

If a teen exhibits these warning signs, it should be discussed with their physician at the time of screening.

As adults, it can be easy to brush off the dilemmas and pressures that teens face, thinking that adult problems are much more dire and important. However, to the teens themselves, the obstacles of maturing can sometimes seem insurmountable and hopeless. It is important to make sure that teens are screened each year for depression because it can literally mean the difference between life and death. If a teen does have depression, there is hope. The right treatment can greatly improve a teen’s mental health, assisting the healing of both teens and families, even in cases of severe depression. Parents looking for treatment options should consider teaming up with Centered Health. Through inpatient services, the doctors and staff at Centered Health can partner with parents and help teens move towards a happy and healthy future.