Seven in ten U.S. teens said anxiety and depression are major problems among people their age in their communities, according to a Pew Research Center survey of teenagers. Let’s collectively let that sink in for a second. Most of the teenagers where we live are sad, depressed, overwhelmed.

The thing is, we know this, or at least we sense it. But for some reason it’s not sinking in, not the stats or the stories like the one Eilish shared on The Gayle King Grammy Special. Eilish confided she didn’t think she’d make it past 17. “I was so unhappy last year. I was so unhappy, and I was so, like, joyless,” she said. Another example of the despair among teens and even tweens.

The problem isn’t out there. It’s right here, right now. And, girls are overwhelmingly more at risk. One in five teenage girls had experienced at least one major depressive episode over the past year (based on research done in 2017).  For boys, the number was 7 percent.

And, it’s not just depression, anxiety is another issue. Almost thirty percent of teens said they felt tense or nervous about their day—every or almost every day. A third of kids are in a near constant state of worry.

Psychiatrists and psychologist agree the reasons vary from the micro (tomorrow’s bio exam) to the macro (how the Trump era has altered civil discourse) to the existential (is our climate going to kill our planet). While all these factors play a role, academic and social pressures are the reasons cited most often by experts who specialize in teen depression. Pressure for good grades and to look good and fit in rank the top of the charts (61 percent and 29 percent, respectively).

But, why are kids so much worse off today than say 10 years ago? Often the culprit comes back to social media. But for almost any example showing the link between the time spent on social media and mental health issues, you’ll find a counter claim: the existing research ‘lacks analytic techniques examining change over time’ or something similar hinting that the research methods are flawed.

The truth is, it’s complicated. Even when researchers are studying just one platform, Facebook, they say the scientific equivalent of ‘it depends.’ Here’s why: Some people use social media to connect; others use it to disconnect. So, how social media affects you, depends on your motivation in using it.

One thing is clear though. For tween and teen girls, self-esteem drops substantially during middle adolescence. It is possible that social media amplifies this because of the quest for perfect images. One study, for example, shows a decrease in self esteem linked to selfie viewing.

There are things you can do to help a depressed teen. First, recognize the symptoms. Teens, in particular have a bad rap, for being in a collective bad mood. See below for a list of symptoms that may signal more than the normal crappy day. Also, be supportive and listen without judgement. Well-meaning parents sometimes say things like, ‘What do you have to be depressed about.” Statements like that not only miss the point, they can add shame onto the depression.

Symptoms Of Teen Depression

  • Constantly feeling sad, anxious, or even empty
  • Feeling hopeless or like everything is going wrong
  • Feeling worthless or helpless
  • Feel guilty about things that aren’t your fault
  • Being irritable much of the time
  • Spending more time alone and withdrawing from friends and family
  • Dropping grades
  • No longer interested in activities and hobbies
  • Change in sleeping and eating habits
  • Feeling tired or depleted
  • Feeling restless
  • Having trouble concentrating, remembering information, or making decisions
  • An increase in aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or stomach problems without a clear cause
  • Thinking about dying or suicide

Respond to comments about death or suicide with the same kind of urgency you would if you thought your child’s appendix burst. Here’s what to do according to the National Institute for Mental Health:

If someone is telling you that he or she is going to kill himself or herself, do not leave him or her alone or promise that you’ll keep it a secret. Get help as soon as possible. Call 911 for emergency services and/or take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room. Or call one of the suicide prevention hotlines.

The toll-free number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL), is 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and it’s available 24 hours a day, every day. The service is available to everyone. All calls are free and confidential. You can also chat with the NSPL online.

The Crisis Text Line is another free, confidential resource available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Text “HOME” to 741741 and a trained crisis counselor will respond to you with support and information via text message.

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Last Updated: Jan 29, 2020