It is no secret that the adolescent years can be a turbulent time.
During this crucial period in their development, teens’ minds and bodies go through dramatic changes. At the same time, they can be confronted with intense social pressures as they attempt to establish an independent identity and find their place in the world.
This combination of internal and external turmoil can have a profoundly negative impact on a young person’s healthy development. When an adolescent attempts to deal with such difficulties, while also struggling with a depressive disorder, he or she may be at increased risk for a variety of devastating outcomes, including self-harm and suicide.
Rising Rates of Suicide, Depression Among Children and Adolescents
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the annual suicide rate in the United States increased by 24% between 1999 and 2014. As troubling as this increase is, the statistics for young people, especially children and adolescents, are even more distressing:
- From 1999-2014, the suicide rate among girls ages 10 to 14 increased by more than 200%, rising from 0.5 per 100,000 in 1999 to 1.7 per 100,000 in 2014.
- During the same time period, the suicide rate among adolescent girls and young women ages 15 to 24 increased by more than 50%, rising from 3.0 per 100,000 in 1999 to 4.6 per 100,000 in 2014.
- Among boys ages 10 to 14, the suicide rate rose by about 37%, rising from 1.9 per 100,000 in 1999 to 2.6 per 100,000 in 2014.
- Among adolescent boys and young men ages 15 to 24, the annual suicide rate increased by about 8%, rising from 16.8 per 100,000 in 1999 to 18.2 percent in 2014.
The rising rates of suicide among adolescents and teenagers have occurred during a time when experts have also tracked an increase in certain forms of depression among members of these same age groups.
For example, information collected as part of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NS-DUH) revealed that 11.3 percent of U.S. teens experienced a major depressive episode in 2014. This represented an increase of almost 30% from 2005, when 8.7 percent of teens told NS-DUH researchers that they had experienced symptoms that are consistent with a major depressive episode.
Detecting Depression to Prevent Suicide
As suggested by the variances in the depression and suicide statistics noted in the previous section, there is not an absolute cause-effect relationship between depressive disorders and suicidal behaviors. Suicidal thoughts and actions may be prompted by a variety of internal and external factors, often acting in combination with each other.
However, the American Psychiatric Association and other experts have noted that depression can increase a person’s risk for attempting suicide. When that depression is not diagnosed, and/or if the young person who has depression does not receive effective professional care, his or her risk for considering or attempting suicide may increase significantly.
For parents, teachers, and other non-clinicians, identifying adolescent depression can be challenging because many of the symptoms of depressive disorders – such as changes in mood and energy levels, sleep disruptions, and withdrawing from family and friends – can, in moderation, be typical occurrences during the teen years.
However, when a young person experiences significant changes that last for several weeks, and that impede the young person’s ability to function, he or she may be in the midst of a major depressive disorder. Common symptoms of depression among adolescents include the following:
- Pervasive sadness, despair, or sense of inescapable hopelessness
- Outbursts of unprovoked anger and/or crying
- Loss of interest in events, activities, and issues that were previously of great importance to the teen
- Sudden, unexplained drop in academic performance
- Persistent complaints of stomachaches, headaches, and other generalized discomfort
- Significant disruptions in sleep patterns, including insomnia or hypersomnia
- Frequent expressions of self-loathing
- Obsession with death and dying
For parents, teachers, coaches, and others who have regular contact with adolescents and teenagers, noting uncharacteristic behaviors or attitudes can be important when determining if a young person may be struggling with depression. For example, substandard academic performance is not necessarily a sign of a depressive disorder – but when a student who typically performs very well in school suddenly experiences a precipitous drop in grades, this could indicate a problem.
If you suspect that an adolescent in your care may be struggling with depression, it is imperative that you take the steps that are necessary for that young person to receive a thorough diagnosis from a qualified professional. Depressive disorders are treatable conditions, but in order for a young person to benefit from such professional care, he or she must first receive an accurate diagnosis.
As rates of both depression and suicide continue to rise among adolescents and teenagers in the United States, continued vigilance and appropriate action will be essential to protect the health and wellbeing of the nation’s young people.
About Longleaf Hospital
Located in history Alexandria, Virginia, Longleaf Hospital is a 92-bed center where children, adolescents, adults, and seniors can receive acute care for a variety of mental and behavioral health concerns. Common issues experienced by Longleaf patients include anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), psychosis, aggression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. At Longleaf Hospital, patients and their families work in close collaboration with multidisciplinary teams of treatment professionals. Depending upon the specific needs of each patient, his or her care may be provided by doctors, nurses, psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, and other professionals. Children and adolescents may receive inpatient treatment at Longleaf Hospital, while adults may heal at the inpatient, partial hospitalization (PHP) and/or intensive outpatient (IOP) levels. Each person’s progress is guided by a personalized treatment plan; however, the general goals for children and adolescents at Longleaf Hospital are stabilizing acute symptoms, identifying the disorders and other fundamental issues that are at the core of the young person’s distress, and determining the optimal next steps that will lead to improved quality of life.