The weather is cooling off, leaves are changing colors and a reprieve from the “Hotlanta” summer is upon us. But, for teens, fall marks the onset of homework, grades, increasing social pressures augmented by the immediacy of Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter, and...depression.
In fact, in 2017, The National Institute of Mental Health reported 13.3 percent of U.S. adolescents aged 12-17 were diagnosed with a major depressive episode. When broken down by gender, the rate in females reveals a startling increase to 20 percent, with males trailing at 6.8 percent. The overall rate climbs to 18.5 percent at age 17, which represents many high school juniors and seniors, who will soon begin preparing to complete AP exams and college applications.
The physiologically impulsive teen brain and depression can be a volatile combination. A recent study by The Centers for Disease Control showed suicide rates among 15- to 19-year-old girls doubled between 2007 and 2015, reaching a 40-year high, and the suicide rate among same-aged boys rose by more than 30 percent. With such startling statistics, what are parents to do?
Understand What Depression Looks Like
It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between teenage moodiness and teenage depression. Some indicators parents should be aware of include loss of interest in school, friends or sports; use of drugs, alcohol and e-cigarettes; social isolation; changes in appetite or sleep patterns; agitation; restlessness; or having little to no energy. While many have experienced at least one of these symptoms in our lifetime, a combination of these symptoms over a sustained period may indicate depression.
Limit Social Media and Smart Phone Use
Removing electronics from the bedroom is one way to increase the quality and amount of sleep your teen is getting. Know your child’s passcodes and make it a condition of phone ownership. Installing the DriveMode app, or similar safety application on their phones which silences incoming calls and texts while driving, not only provides safety measures for them while behind the wheel, it also reduces their anxiety of missing out.
Today, many teens largely have no concept of a world without smart phones and cannot understand the lasting repercussions of their often hasty and impulsive social media postings. They experience life immediately through text messages and social media, and often respond without taking time to digest the consequences of their words.
Talk About It
Depression can affect anyone, regardless of background or socioeconomic status. It’s important to make sure mental health is not a taboo topic in your household. Parents are key to elevating the conversation. When speaking with your child, I recommend using words like “suicide” and “self-harm” and listening to what they say about themselves and their friends. Speak in nonjudgmental terms; you want your teen to see you coming from a position of wanting to learn, not blame, pity or judgment. If your teen opens up about what may be symptoms of depression, listening to and validating their feelings, will create trust and increase the possibility of them coming to you in the future. Encourage them to talk, even if it’s about their friends—suicidal thoughts are not a secret to keep.
Anyone that talks about depression, suicide or harming themselves, it is their way of asking for help. If someone is making plans to harm themselves or is in imminent danger, seek help immediately. Resources for teens and parents include: The National Suicide Prevention Hotline, Georgia Crisis and Access Line, Crisis Text Line, The Trevor Project and Your Life, Your Voice.
Dr. Maggie Fox serves as lead pediatric physician for Kaiser Permanente’s Alpharetta office. A graduate of Tulane University Medical School, she has been practicing pediatrics in the Atlanta area since 2003