The stereotype of a sullen, angsty teenager is one we often see in movies, TV shows, books and other popular mediums, often shown to extremes and meant to portray a troubled peer who other kids should keep at a distance.
However, children and teens of all backgrounds experience depression and anxiety. They may not always show their symptoms outwardly. They may not have “an obvious reason” for mental health struggles. The truth is that depression and anxiety are the most common mental health conditions teens experience, and their struggles should be taken seriously.
Both can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease someone’s ability to function at work or school and at home.
Depression symptoms include:
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite or weight
- A dramatic loss of sleep or increase in sleep
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Feeling a lack of purpose
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Anxiety symptoms include:
- Panic attacks
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly
- Feeling weak or tired
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Changes in sleep
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Having difficulty controlling worry or feeling a lack of control over their environment
- Avoiding certain people, places or things that could be a trigger
Why do we talk about depression and anxiety together?
Anxiety and depression often occur together and cause similar symptoms. They are also both commonly triggered by the same or similar stressors. Both are very treatable mental health conditions. Anxiety and depression are commonly treated through medication, individual therapy and other coping strategies.
How common is depression and anxiety in teens?
Rates of depression and anxiety in children and teens have increased over time. In 2003, 5.4% of children 6 to 17 were diagnosed with either anxiety or depression. By 2012, that number had risen to 8.4%.
More than 15% of youth ages 12 to 17 reported in 2018 to 2019 that they experienced a major depressive episode in the past year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Who more commonly experiences depression and anxiety?
Girls and those who identify in the LGBTQ+ community experience higher rates of depression and anxiety. According to a 2017 Pew Research report analysis, 20% of teenage girls experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year, compared to 7% of boys experiencing similar issues.
The pandemic also caused girls and those in the LGBTQ+ community to suffer further. In 2021, nearly 60% of high school girls and 76% of LGBTQ+ high schoolers said they felt sad or hopeless almost every day for two or more weeks in a row such that they stopped doing some usual activities.
Why do teens experience depression and anxiety?
Our mental health and the triggers for certain mental health conditions are as individual as our brain chemistry, personal experiences and perceptions. Children and teens also experience changes and issues in their daily lives that are just as significant as adults’ issues. This could include:
- Academic or social pressures
- Parents putting on pressure to act a certain way in school, extracurricular activities and family events
- Changes in physical and mental development
- Evolving perceptions of their self which could include a change in gender or sexual identity and even personality changes
- Comparing themselves and their lives to others online or in person
- Shifts in family dynamics
- Concerns about health, specifically pandemic-related risks
The list could go on.
What can families and caregivers do about teen depression and anxiety?
While the reasons youth experience mental health struggles are unique to each child or teen, it’s crucial that families, peers and mentors take their concerns seriously.
- Talk about the changes you see without judgment. Privately talk to a child or teen and say, “I have noticed ___. Are you struggling with thoughts of ____?” Even if kids and teens don’t want to talk about their emotions right away, make it clear that you are always available to talk when they are ready.
- Don’t trivialize their struggles. Don’t respond by saying something like, “What would you do if you had to deal with ____,” or “It’s just a phase.”
- Isolation and completely avoiding triggers may not help. While it’s tempting to want to shelter a youth who is struggling, adults need to remember that kids and teens have to learn how to work through difficult feelings and address triggers. Ignoring the symptoms won’t make everything better, but teaching them to ask for certain accommodations can help them take ownership of their well-being and mental health.
- Talk to a mental health professional. A mental health professional can help determine potential causes for depression and anxiety, suggest ways to self-soothe, and find coping mechanisms, suggest support groups and even recommend medication.
Ellipsis and our team of mental health professionals and family support specialists can help. If you suspect a child or teen in your life is struggling with depression or anxiety, don’t hesitate to reach out for help at EllipsisIowa.org.