According to a published study from Blue Cross/Blue Shield Association in a recent article in U.S. News & World Report, depression rose 33 percent from 2013 to 2016, mostly among teens and millennials. The study also states that depression increased 63 percent in adolescents (ages 12-17) and 47 percent in millennials (ages 18-34). The National Institutes of Health reports that more than 3 million adolescents experienced a major depressive episode in 2016.
Why is this happening? Some theories point to social media as a societal curse that is affecting teens. Perhaps it’s not technology itself, but rather how we use it, which has altered how we connect and communicate with each other.
Teens are connecting more from their bedrooms and from behind closed doors rather than face to face. Live, in-person exchanges offer a sense of community and a real way of connecting that you can only experience when you have eye contact, observe body language, tone of voice, facial expressions and allow an opportunity for a comforting hug.
NIH researcher Dr. Kathryn Long has worked with adolescents, specifically addressing depression. She describes depression as “an illness of the brain circuitry and chemistry (which) is caused by changes in mood, thinking, motivations and behavior.”
Depression in teens may present differently than it does with adults. Some signs can be moodiness, agitation, irritability, changes in sleeping and eating habits, and lack of focus or concentration, which may appear as a behavioral issue.
One form of treatment that may support teens with depression is behavioral activation. Behavioral activation focuses on rewards and increasing positive behaviors to improve mood and outlook. Examples such as exercise, goal setting and problem-solving activities all reinforce healthier thought and behavioral patterns. These behavioral activities are specific and realistic, which provide rewards for teens as they reach their target goal.
How can we positively activate healthy thinking patterns and practices to improve a teen’s quality of life?
Helpful ways parents can support their teens with depression, in addition to counseling and other professional treatment, if necessary, include:
Become active listeners; without judgement, allow your teens a safe space to express themselves.
Model effective problem-solving skills and redirect your teen to what does work well despite thoughts that “nothing is working well.”
Positively reinforce their accomplishments which can inspire their positive future action.
Promote peer-to-peer connections and physical activity, as this establishes a routine and creates healthier brain pathways.
It takes practice! Just as when children learn to ride a bike or develop study skills, the cultivation of behavioral tools in their toolbox supports their mental health, leading to coping skills and success throughout their lives.
Outreach Teen & Family Services  is a noprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer counseling and educational programs to youth ages 5 to 21, parents and families that are affordable, accessible
and discreet, all within a welcoming, supportive environment.