The World Health Organization has identified depression as the leading cause of ill-health and disability world-wide. Latest figures from the organization estimated more than 300 million people were now living with depression – an 18% increase between 2005 and 2015.

The increasing prevalence of depression, documented by the U.S. National Survey on Drug Use and Health over the past several years, is steeper among girls than boys. Based on these annual surveys, depressive episodes appear to have spiked in the population between the ages of 12 and 20.

Dr. Ramin Mojtabai, a psychiatrist who is a professor in the department of mental health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at John Hopkins and first author of the study, noted the increasing trend pattern was still seen in the study after adjustment for the prevalence of substance abuse. It wasn’t explained away by drug use or drinking, nor could it be accounted for by looking at household composition (two parents versus one parent versus no parents).

Dr. Benjamin Shain, Head of the division of child and adolescent psychology at NorthShore University Health System and lead author on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ clinical report on teen suicide and suicide attempts, states that when it comes to your child, in a sense statistics don’t matter, what matters is your particular child. Pay attention to the worry signs.

What to do according to Shain? Mostly listen. That should be 90% of the conversation. The other 10% of the time parents should not attempt to offer a solution but help the child problem solve.

Mojtabai suggests although more information is needed about the effects of child abuse and neglect, about screens and digital devices and cyberbullying, parents need to be aware of the risks.

Warning signs of teenage depression include

  • Mood changes such as persistent sadness or irritability
  • Changes in level of functioning such as school failure
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities that had been important
  • Different eating and sleeping patterns
  • Non-specific signs such as lack of energy, trouble concentrating, unexplained aches and pains

How severe do the symptoms seem and how persistent? Is it depression, could it be drugs, is the schoolwork too hard?

Action stations

Have a sit-down conversation with your child – what’s going on?

Talk with the teachers or visit a counselor or psychiatrist.

N.B. Substance abuse and depression go together.

There are no quick fixes. This is a “long and winding road” for teenagers and their family.

What are our approaches to mental health and what about the continuing stigma associated with mental illness? For a teen or anyone living with depression talking to a person that they trust is often the first step toward treatment and recovery.  Let’s talk and keep asking the right questions.