A November 2016 cover story in TIME magazine, “Teen Depression and Anxiety: Why the Kids Are Not Alright,” states, “Adolescents today have a reputation for being more fragile, less resilient and more overwhelmed than their parents were when they were growing up. Sometimes they’re called spoiled or coddled or helicoptered. But a closer look paints a far more heartbreaking portrait of why young people are suffering.
Anxiety and depression in high school kids have been on the rise since 2012 after several years of stability. It’s a phenomenon that cuts across all demographics, in all suburban, urban and rural areas; those who are college bound and those who aren’t. Family financial stress can exacerbate these issues, and studies show that girls are more at risk than boys.”
According to a 2016 Child Mind Institute report, “Mental health disorders are the most common health issues faced by our nation’s school-aged children. One in five children suffers from a mental health or learning disorder, and 80% of chronic mental disorders begin in childhood. There is an urgent need to identify the signs of these conditions early in life if children are to get the care and support they need to thrive. Anxiety disorders constitute the most prevalent class of mental health problems in children and adolescents, with prevalence rates estimated from 15-20%.” Additionally, a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reveals that among American adolescents aged 12-17, “1 in 9 report having had a major depressive episode (MDE) in the past year", and this is all before we get to suicide and the epidemic that is opioid and heroin addiction.
“Children struggling with mental health and learning disorders are at risk for poor outcomes in school and in life, and outdated approaches to discipline are only making matters worse. A widely deployed, integrated system of evidence-supported, school-based mental health and preventive services is needed. If we want to help our children and our schools, we cannot wait.”
In 2015, about 3 million teens ages 12 to 17 had had at least one major depressive episode in the past year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 2 million report experiencing depression that impairs their daily function. About 30% of girls and 20% of boys–totaling 6.3 million teens–have had an anxiety disorder, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health. Experts suspect that these statistics are on the low end of what’s really happening, since many people do not seek help for anxiety and depression. A 2015 report from the Child Mind Institute found that only about 20% of young people with a diagnosable anxiety disorder get treatment. It’s also hard to quantify behaviors related to depression and anxiety, like self-harm, because they are deliberately secretive.
Still, the number of distressed young people is on the rise, experts say, and they are trying to figure out how best to help. Teen minds have always craved stimulation, and their emotional reactions are by nature urgent and sometimes debilitating. The biggest variable, then, is the climate in which teens navigate this stage of development. 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.
In my dozens of conversations with teens, parents, clinicians and school counselors across the country, there was a pervasive sense that being a teenager today is a draining full-time job that includes doing schoolwork, managing a social-media identity and fretting about career, climate change, sexism, racism–you name it. Adolescents and teens today feel like they are the first generation that cannot escape their problems at all. With many of them living in fear of what the future even holds for them.