Anxiety & Depression Epidemic

Rates of adolescent depression and anxiety continue rising as the understanding of causes and treatment resources remain widely stagnant. 

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders of childhood and adolescence. Anxiety and depression in high school children have been on the rise since 2012 after several years of stability. It’s a phenomenon that cuts across all demographics. Family financial stress can exacerbate these issues, and studies show that girls are more at risk than boys.

In 2015, about 3 million teens ages 12–17 had had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 2 million are reporting depression that impairs their daily function. About 30 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys have had an anxiety disorder, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health.

All Stressed Out

Social, political, and environmental causes are likely implicated in the increase in the number of teenagers each year who have had a depressive episode, up a troubling 37 percent between 2005 and 2014. High school students now have more anxiety symptoms and are twice as likely to see a mental health professional as teens in the 1980s.

Being a teenager in the 21st century can be a depleting full-time job that includes doing schoolwork, managing a social media persona, and agonizing over career choices, academic performance, climate change, sexism, and racism. Often, every event and encounter is documented online for hours—it’s simply exhausting.

Depression (major depressive disorder) is a medical illness that can interfere with your ability to handle your daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or managing your school work. Depression is common, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. Treatment may be needed for someone to feel better. Depression can happen at any age, but often symptoms begin in the teens or early 20s or 30s. It can occur along with other mental disorders, substance misuse, and other health conditions.

Signs your child might suffer from depression

  • Constantly feeling sad, anxious, or “empty”
  • Feeling hopeless or like everything is going wrong
  • Feeling worthless or helpless
  • Feeling irritable much of the time
  • Spending more time alone and withdrawing from friends and family
  • Poor grades
  • Lost interest or pleasure in activities and hobbies they used to enjoy
  • Eating or sleeping habits have changed
  • Feeling constantly tired
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Thinking about self-harm, death, or suicide

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 25 percent of 13–18-year-olds have an anxiety disorder, and just under 6 percent have a severe anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders often co-occur with depression as well as eating disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and others.

Signs your child might have an anxiety disorder:

  • Emotional Changes
  • Social Changes
  • Physical Changes
  • Sleep Disturbance
  • Poor School Performance
  • Panic Attacks

Anxiety and depression are treatable conditions, but 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment, according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.

More research is needed to identify the drivers of these dysfunctions, suggest policy changes to address these issues, and find effective treatments. 

Anxiety and depression disorders are treatable conditions. Young people suffering from these painful conditions can take heart in the knowledge that skilled mental healthcare providers can employ psychotherapies and medications, when appropriate, to reduce symptoms, restore the quality of life, and develop long-term strategies to make lasting change. 

The Turnbridge Adolescent Program specializes in deep diagnoses that identify the underlying sources of anxiety and depression to determine optimal treatment plans faster. The program's goal is to understand the factors contributing to these mental health disorders to improve long-term outcomes.