Depressive Episodes Surge Among Teens, Treatment Rates Stagnate

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Being a teenager is difficult for everyone, but a new report contains troubling findings about the mental health of adolescents and young adults.

According to the findings publishing in the journal Pediatrics, there has been a concerning increase in the number of young adults between the ages of 12 and 20 who have experienced at least one major depressive episode (MDE).

A major depressive episode is defined as a period of persistent low mood lasting at least two weeks. The symptoms include loss of energy, difficulty concentrating, low self-esteem, and lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy.

The study of national trends in depression among adolescents and young adults shows the percentage of teenagers who reported experiencing an MDE in the past year leapt from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.5% in 2014 – a 37% increase.

Even more troubling, the study finds that there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in mental health treatment for adolescents to account for the increase. That indicates many young people are going untreated for depression, which could have significant implications at such an impressionable age.

The study, which evaluated data collected from the National Surveys of Drug Use and Health, did find that those who received treatment typically received more intense rehabilitation programs. Many received specialized care which the researchers attribute to increased mental health coverage under newer health care parity laws.

Intriguingly, the increase in depressive episodes among teens isn’t just affecting the groups most likely to be impacted by mental health issues. The new research adjusted for socio-demographic factors and household factors and found they could not account for the increase in depression rates.

The researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health also ruled out the possibility the increase may be related to substance abuse, saying there has been little change in substance abuse rates among teens in recent years.

While the team could not pinpoint the source of the rising rates of depressive episodes among teens, they say “the growing number of depressed adolescents and young adults who do not receive any mental health treatment of their symptoms calls for renewed outreach efforts, especially in school and college health and counseling services and pediatric practices where many of the untreated adolescents and young adults with depression may be detected and managed.‍”

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