When I was in high school, I suffered from a myriad of digestive issues. I was eventually diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, and was screened for depression at about the same time I received my diagnosis.
Although it was confusing to me at the time, I now understand that the pressures of dealing with my senior year, preparing for college, and being involved in an intense acapella group while trying to cope with an illness with no clear solutions was in fact having a detrimental effect on my mood.
This was over 15 years ago (although it’s hard for me to believe) and teens today are facing even greater pressures. Research now shows that depression among teens is growing at an alarming rate, especially for girls.
With this troubling rate of increase, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recently issued updated guidelines that call for more mental health screenings of patients ages 12 and over during their annual checkups.
The guidelines include recommendations that pediatricians spend some time alone with their patients to assess their mental health, as well as talk separately with a parent or caregiver.
This is an important step, because teens may not want to open up about how they are feeling while a parent is in the room. I am already noticing this with my 10-year-old son, who did not want to talk to his doctor about being bullied at school with his family in the room.
If the doctor determines that the teen has moderate or severe depression, the pediatrician can offer treatment or consultation with a mental health specialist.
Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression. Rates of suicide among this age group have increased as well, nearly tripling since 1960.
These heartbreaking statistics are sparking important conversations nationwide. A Time magazine article titled, Teen Depression and Anxiety: Why the Kids Are Not Alright points to many possible causes of this rate of increase among teens today:
“They are the post-9/11 generation, raised in an era of economic and national insecurity. They’ve never known a time when terrorism and school shootings weren’t the norm. They grew up watching their parents weather a severe recession, and, perhaps most important, they hit puberty at a time when technology and social media were transforming society.”
The influence of social media cannot be understated. Teens today face constant stimuli from technology and many become addicted; they also may experience cyberbullying that can be brutal and relentless.
But while more screening from doctors is important, parents should also be mindful at home. If we are going to combat this plague amongst our young people, we need to be vigilant and start asking important questions long before our kids become teenagers. The pediatrician for our three boys is already starting to ask these questions in simple terms, and my husband and I are speaking openly and honestly with them at home as well.
Society is finally waking up to the mental health crisis in America, and starting to take action. Along with these new recommendations for pediatricians, the senate also recently passed the “Bringing Postpartum Depression Out of the Shadows Act” — an important step, considering that experts estimate that 600,000 women will suffer from postpartum depression each year. (That’s 1 out of 7 new moms.) However, only 15 percent will receive treatment.
I experienced postpartum depression, and was one of those women who didn’t receive treatment until my baby was almost 2 years old. When I finally talked to my doctor, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder.
There is hope to be found in the many treatments available for depression. If we can screen our children early and often, we can better help our kids and hopefully turn these disturbing rates of increase around.