Depression in teens- especially teen girls- is on the rise. Teen girls are about 3 times as likely to have experienced depression recently than teen boys, according to the Pew Research Center. Some people theorize this could be because of the increasing popularity and usage of social media, which impacts the mental health of girls greater than boys, according to a 2019 study from The University of Essex and University College London. Teen girls are also more likely to receive psychotherapy or medication for their depression than teen boys. In teen girls who had recent depression, 45% received treatment as compared to only 33% of teen boys. 

The suicide rate is also highest among teenagers and young adults among the general population, and is the second leading cause of death in ages 15 to 24 in the USA. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, almost 20% of highschoolers reported serious thoughts about committing suicide, and 9% have made a suicide attempt. Dr. Fleisher, a psychologist who specializes in child and adolescent psychology at UCLA Health, says that teens are particularly vulnerable because of “where they stand socially and where they stand developmentally”. This is because the prefrontal cortex, which is a driver of decision making, doesn’t fully develop until the mid 20s. Dr. Fleisher says this makes teens more impulsive. He encourages people to raise awareness about the importance of mental health to help with destigmatizing seeking support when needed. Contrary to what many people believe, he reassures the public that talking about depression and suicide is not going to increase the risk to an individual with depression.

If your teen is struggling with depression, talk with them and listen without judging. You can start the conversation by telling them what you’re seeing. For example, you notice they aren’t hanging out with friends as much. Depression can make even small and everyday tasks difficult, so show them you care about them and appreciate them for doing small things, like keeping up with friends or going to school. While your teen is depressed, it is not the time to be critical of them. Be curious with follow up questions but don’t interrogate. Ask your teen how you can help. If they don’t want help, you have to respect that and give them their space, but also vocalize your fears and concerns and let them know you will be checking in on them periodically. If they are open to getting help, be ready to take action. You might not know all the answers, but you can say you are glad they want help and you will do some research to find resources.

 Depending on how symptomatic the person is, they may benefit in participating in the search process. For example, your 18 year old might want to help choose their own therapist. Use your judgment as to whether your teen should be involved in the process. It’s important when searching for a treatment team that the parent  has a good working relationship with the clinician too. While it is critical that the teen has confidentiality, it is also important that there is a balance so the parent is included in the treatment plan. If your child is struggling with depression, it can be very scary, but effective help is out there so it is important to start the process of acknowledging your concerns and taking action.

-Written by student intern (2022-2023) contributor Logan Walker-Liang.