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Today's Teen Anxiety and Depression & Ways you can Help

Updated: Apr 8

Today's Teen Anxiety and Depression

The rising rate of Depression and Anxiety in Children

Many children have fears and worries, and may feel sad and hopeless from time to time. Strong fears may appear at different times during development. For example, toddlers are often very distressed about being away from their parents, even if they are safe and cared for. Although fears and worries are typical in children, persistent or extreme forms of fear and sadness could be due to anxiety or depression. Because the symptoms primarily involve thoughts and feelings, they are sometimes called internalizing disorders.

Facts about mental disorders in U.S. children
  • ADHD, anxiety problems, behavior problems, and depression are the most commonly diagnosed mental disorders in children. Estimates for ever having a diagnosis among children aged 3-17 years, in 2016-19, are given below.

  • ADHD 9.8% (approximately 6.0 million)2

  • Anxiety 9.4% (approximately 5.8 million)2

  • Behavior problems 8.9% (approximately 5.5 million)2

  • Depression 4.4% (approximately 2.7 million)2

  • Some of these conditions commonly occur together. For example, among children aged 3-17 years in 2016:

  • Having another mental disorder was most common in children with depression: about 3 in 4 children with depression also had anxiety (73.8%) and almost 1 in 2 had behavior problems (47.2%).3

  • For children with anxiety, more than 1 in 3 also had behavior problems (37.9%) and about 1 in 3 also had depression (32.3%).3

  • For children with behavior problems, more than 1 in 3 also had anxiety (36.6%) and about 1 in 5 also had depression (20.3%).3

  • Depression and anxiety have increased over time

  • “Ever having been diagnosed with either anxiety or depression” among children aged 6–17 years increased from 5.4% in 2003 to 8% in 2007 and to 8.4% in 2011–2012.4

  • “Ever having been diagnosed with anxiety” increased from 5.5% in 2007 to 6.4% in 2011–2012.4

  • “Ever having been diagnosed with depression” did not change between 2007 (4.7%) and 2011-2012 (4.9%).4

  • For adolescents, depression, substance use and suicide are important concerns. Among adolescents aged 12-17 years in 2018-2019 reporting on the past year:

  • 15.1% had a major depressive episode.2

  • 36.7% had persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.2

  • 4.1% had a substance use disorder.2

  • 1.6% had an alcohol use disorder.2

  • 3.2% had an illicit drug use disorder.2

  • 18.8% seriously considered attempting suicide.2

  • 15.7% made a suicide plan.2

  • 8.9% attempted suicide.2

  • 2.5% made a suicide attempt requiring medical treatment.2 (CDC Data)

Do you know the warning signs that your teen might be struggling with these increasingly common mental health challenges?

A variety of issues can indicate anxiety or depression

  • Objects to going to school or frequently calls to be picked up during the school day due to physical symptoms such as stomach aches or headaches

  • Has a difficult time falling asleep, staying asleep, or frequently asks to sleep with you

  • Struggles to complete homework without your help or regularly procrastinates and avoids completing tasks

  • Appears overly sensitive, irritable, or tearful in a variety of situations in ways that are out of proportion to the circumstances

  • Has difficulty with social skills, making or keeping friends, often feels left out or lonely

  • Is excessively fearful about speaking to new people or going to new places

  • Exhibits a variety of obsessions and compulsions or frequently ruminates

  • Is frequently resistant and argumentative

  • Has less interest in activities he or she used to enjoy, avoiding situations, or reluctantly participating with significant distress.

  • Frequently seeks reassurance and often has difficulty accepting reassurance

If your child exhibits these or other concerning symptoms, our team of experienced clinicians at the Lighthouse Counseling Solutions can provide a thorough assessment to determine if treatment may be indicated for your child. With a thorough evaluation and effective psychotherapy, your child will learn tools and new skills in a safe space to help them cope more effectively. Treatment can help them gain self-esteem and the ability to manage their own anxiety, a skill that can help them throughout their lifetime.

Our specially trained child and family therapists also offer Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a form of treatment that improves attitude, emotional, or behavioral problems and reduces distress. We’ll teach your child strategies and techniques for coping with changes, trauma, loss, or other stressors in their life and equip them with skills that they can continue to draw from as they get older. Parents and children can experience a renewed sense of hope and motivation when they see progress during the therapy process. Teen anxiety and depression are rampant especially in today’s society. In this article, I’ll identify some of the signs of depression and anxiety and explain how parents can help their teens.

Depression and Anxiety are Rampant in the Teen Culture

Nearly everyone knows a teen who is depressed or anxious these days; and there are many reasons for this heightened mental health crisis. First, today’s teens are growing up in a culture that puts unhealthy pressures on them. There’s pressure to excel, perform, and even conform to cultural demands. Sadly, these pressures are compounded by a lack of close relationships and online communication without real connection and perhaps online bullying. Consequently, teens who experience loss or trauma are more likely to feel misunderstood and alone. On top of this, unrestricted access to technology has over-exposed many of our teens to things beyond their maturity level. Given the rapid changes and uncertainty in society today, is it any surprise that this generation is struggling?

Looking into bad incoming storm

Warning Signs That Your Teen Might be Struggling with Depression or Anxiety

Changes in behavior are normal for teens as they grow and expand their world, but parents need to be alert to sudden changes that may signal that your teen is suffering from depression or anxiety. These may include changes in appetite, too much sleep or lack of sleep, or lower grades. Teens who are struggling with depression or anxiety may attempt to self-medicate by drinking, taking drugs, or even engaging in self-harm behaviors, like cutting.

Depressed or anxious teens may change their friend group or stop engaging with their old friends. If your teen suddenly withdraws from social events, isolates himself in his room, or refuses to participate in things he used to enjoy, he’s not happy. This isn’t what your teen wants to do, but it may the only way he knows to respond to his problems. Watch for excessive mood swings––from anger, to hopelessness, or irritability. If you see sudden changes, like these, don’t ignore the warning signs. Get involved and get the help your teen needs!

Ways You Can Help Your Depressed or Anxious Teen

The first step to treatment is to talk with a healthcare provider such as your child’s primary care provider, or a mental health specialist, about getting an evaluation. The United States Preventive Services Taskforce recommends screening for anxiety in children aged 8 to 18 years and for depression in adolescents aged 12 to 18 years. Some of the signs and symptoms of anxiety or depression in children could be caused by other conditions, such as trauma. Specific symptoms like having a hard time focusing could be a sign of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is important to get a careful evaluation to get the best diagnosis and treatment. Consultation with a health provider can help determine if medication should be part of the treatment.

A mental health professional can develop a therapy plan that works best for the child and family. Behavior therapy includes child therapy, family therapy, or a combination of both. The school can also be included in the treatment plan. For very young children, involving parents in treatment is key. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one form of therapy that is used to treat anxiety or depression, particularly in older children. It helps the child change negative thoughts into more positive, effective ways of thinking, leading to more effective behavior. Behavior therapy for anxiety may involve helping children cope with and manage anxiety symptoms while gradually exposing them to their fears so as to help them learn that bad things do not occur.

Treatments can also include a variety of ways to help the child feel less stressed and be healthier like nutritious food, physical activity, sufficient sleep, predictable routines, and social support. (CDC)

Start by listening with compassion. It doesn’t mean that you are going to fix your teen’s problems by listening, but you need to strive to understand, so that you can get to the core of the problem. In order to get your teen to share what’s going on, you’ll need to create an environment at home that welcomes these types of difficult conversations. Let you teen know it’s okay to talk about the challenges he’s facing and be willing to share your own struggles.

As your teen opens up, ask him questions and listen without judgment. Don’t criticize him for how he feels. Make sure your teen know that you will love him no matter what he says or does. You may find out that your teen is experiencing problems that go far deeper than you can handle. You may need to get outside help for your teen to deal with his issues. Whatever the problem is, get your teen the help he needs! Unresolved issues don’t just go away. They will come back when they leave home, start college, get a job, or get into a relationship. Sooner or later your teen will have to deal with his problems and they usually come back bigger and stronger with higher stakes. Now is the time to get help.


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