Teen depression has become increasingly common, and heading back to school can be a trigger. According to recent statistics, an estimated 3.1 million adolescents in the United States aged 12 to 17—12.8 percent of that age group—have at least one major depressive episode in any given year. And about the same percentage of college freshman report that they are frequently depressed.
Why are today’s teens suffering? Along with perennial adolescent challenges, they also face issues that were unknown to past generations—namely, technology in general, and social media in particular. American teens consume an average of nine hours of digital media a day—and research shows that the more they consume, the worse they feel. One study found that teenagers who checked social media sites between 50 and 100 times a day were 37 percent more distressed than those who checked just a few times a day.
During the school year especially, adolescents spend so much time doing homework and on screens that they don’t get outside nearly enough, contributing to what’s become known as Nature Deficit Disorder. A phrase coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, Nature Deficit Disorder refers to the fact that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors, resulting in a wide range of behavioral and mental health problems, including depression.
In addition, today’s teens are more protected than in the past. Parents try to shield them from experiencing failure and disappointment, which means that they have fewer chances to build resilience and learn how to cope with challenges.
Moreover, bullying is directly correlated with teen depression, and kids who are bullied are more likely to be depressed as adults. That includes online bullying: A study by the US National Institutes of Health found that victims of cyber bullying showed more signs of depression than other bullying victims. And it’s not just the victims who are at risk: Children who bully others also have an increased rate of depression.
What can parents do to help their teens ward off symptoms of depression? For one, model and encourage self-care. Help kids develop healthy habits in terms of nutrition, sleep, exercise, and time outdoors—all proven to boost mental health. Hopefully, these routines will stick, and support teens when they head off to college.
Parents also need to listen carefully to what their teen shares, whether it’s at the dinner table, or on the phone if they’re away at school. Pay close attention and watch for warning signs of depression.Instead of getting upset or angry if they find out their kids have been experiencing behavior or mental health issues, parents would do well to respond with compassion and invite them to share what’s going on.
Finally, if you’re a parent who’s concerned that your teen is depressed, have them talk to a school counselor, therapist, or doctor immediately. It’s always better to address the problem as soon as possible.
Learn more about Newport Academy’s approach to addressing teen depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse.