Adolescent Depression Rates Are Increasing. What Can Be Done About It?

Medically reviewed by April Justice
Updated February 27, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

There are plenty of statistics to back up the assertion that depression in teens is increasing.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in seven 10–19-year-olds globally is currently experiencing a mental illness, and depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders are among the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents.

A report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) notes that car accidents and motor vehicle fatalities are considered the number one cause of death for teenagers, with suicide as the second-leading cause of death among people ages 15–24 in the US. It’s evident that action is necessary to better support young people and their mental health challenges during their teenage years.

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Adolescent depression is increasing - dont wait, get help

Why are adolescent depression rates increasing?

There are various theories about why so many young people today are dealing with depression and other mental disorders. First, although it also offers some benefits, social media may be contributing to increased levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns for young people. The constant pressure to put only the best parts of your life on display and to compare yourself to others can be detrimental, especially to young people. Increasing instances of cyberbullying may also play a role in the development of teen depression. 

Plus, adolescence can be a difficult time in general. During the average teen’s life, many things are changing, and you’re working to figure out who you are, what you value, and what you want for your life. Add stressful elements like the pandemic, climate change, and social injustices to the mix, and it’s no wonder young people are experiencing challenges with their mental health that could lead to substance use.

Symptoms of depression to watch out for in adolescents

Sometimes, it may be difficult to distinguish normal adolescent behaviors from those that may be cause for concern, like clinical depression symptoms. Regularly checking in with your child on how they’re doing can help you notice if they may be facing mental health challenges. You may also want to keep an eye out for the following warning signs of depression in teens or pre-teens.

  • Changes in sleeping habits
  • Low energy levels
  • Loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Struggling with feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, or guilt
  • Constant boredom
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • A decrease in their typical school performance
  • Changes in weight
  • Irritability or extreme sensitivity
  • Appearing sad or tearful

What can be done to reduce rates of adolescent depression?

What can parents, teachers, and other people who have adolescents in their lives do about the startling rates of depression among this age group? There are a variety of approaches that may help.

Support the cultivation of healthy self-esteem

There’s a robust body of research and systematic review articles that point to the importance of self-esteem for overall health and happiness. One study associates it with “success and well-being in life domains such as relationships, work, and health”. Another points out that low self-esteem often correlates with increased anxiety, major depression, and suicidal ideation. Encouraging young people to build their self-esteem, then, may support their mental health. Some ideas for how to do this include pointing out what they’re good at, providing them with positive reinforcement and praise, teaching them to set healthy boundaries, emphasizing the power of positive self-talk, and encouraging healthy habits like eating well and exercising.

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Provide and encourage strong social ties

Research from 2022 supports past findings on the importance of social support for a person’s health and well-being. It states that “Individuals who say they have family and friends they can count on to help them in times of trouble are consistently more likely to be satisfied with their personal health, and research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions”. You and other family can and generally should provide social support to your child, students, or other adolescents in your life. Encouraging them to make friends by joining activities and putting themselves out there can be helpful. It’s also worth noting that one study found that online social connections can provide similar benefits for those who lack in-person social support.

Put a stop to bullying

Bullying among children and adolescents is a complex and widespread issue. Consistent bullying in particular can have massively detrimental effects on the mental health of young people, which is why putting a stop to it may be highly beneficial. According to the CDC, about 1 in 5 high school students report being bullied on school property in the last year, and about 1 in 6 report being bullied online. Keeping an open dialogue with the adolescents in your life can make it more likely that they’ll come to you if they’re experiencing this type of abuse so you can step in. It may also be helpful to teach all young people the power of words, the importance of respecting each other, the beauty of diversity, and the potentially grave consequences of treating each other poorly.

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

If you are experiencing trauma, support is available. Please see our Get Help Now page for more resources.

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Adolescent depression is increasing - dont wait, get help

Increase mental health education

It can also be helpful to teach adolescents about mental health and depression specifically, including what it is and how to spot untreated depression in themselves and others. You might emphasize to them that everyone faces challenges with their mental health from time to time, that support is available, and that there’s no reason to be embarrassed about reaching out to mental health care providers. De-stigmatizing mental health conditions and getting treatment for them, whether that be counseling, family therapy, or antidepressant medications, is likely an important step on the road to decreasing rates of adolescent depression. Never start or stop any depression medicines or other forms of medication unless under the guidance of a licensed medical professional.

Give kids permission to go to mental health support

If your adolescent child seems to be exhibiting symptoms of depression, seeking professional help for them is usually a recommended next step. Learning how to deal with teenage girls and boys' mental health is important. A primary care physician or therapist can help them identify strategies for managing their symptoms and improving their coping mechanisms to improve their mental health overall. However, even if your child is not exhibiting signs of a mental health condition like depression or bipolar disorder, it can be helpful to offer them the option of seeking mental health support. A mental health provider can offer them a safe, nonjudgmental space in which they can talk and work through any difficult feelings or stressful life events with professional encouragement and guidance. 

If you're interested in seeking mental health care for your pre-teen or teen and are wondering how to treat depression in teenagers, resources are available. Research suggests that in-person and online therapy offer similar benefits, so you can pursue treatment for your child in whatever format works best for them. One study found that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a common treatment for a variety of mental health conditions, may actually be more effective in mitigating the symptoms of depression when delivered virtually, and the study notes that it’s typically more cost-effective as well.

If you’re interested in virtual therapy for your child, an online therapy platform like TeenCounseling can match them with a therapist who they can speak with via phone, video call, and/or online chat. If you’re interested in seeking mental health support for yourself as you navigate the challenges of parenting, a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp offers the same services for adults. 

Counselor review

Nicole Kindt, LCPC, LPC
Nicole is amazing… we (my teen and I) will forever be grateful for all the care, help, guidance and much more she’s helped us with."

Takeaway

The rates of adolescent depression are concerning. Working to destigmatize seeking mental health care and supporting the adolescents in your life are two strategies that may help mitigate this worrisome trend and contribute to suicide prevention efforts.

Adolescence can be a challenging life stage

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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