More and more of America’s adolescents and young adults are struggling with depression, especially young women, according to a study released earlier this week.
Published in the journal Pediatrics, the study found that the rate of adolescents who reported a recent episode of clinical depression increased by 37 percent between 2005 and 2014. Among girls, one in six reported a bout of clinical depression in the last year. In particular, the 12-month prevalence of a major depressive episode increased from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 11.3 percent in 2014 among adolescents, and from 8.8 percent to 9.6 percent among young adults. The study is based on data from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health from 2005 to 2014, which included more than 172,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 and more than 178,000 adults ages 18 to 25.
“This shows us there are a growing number of untreated adolescents with depression and that we are making few inroads in getting mental health care to this population,” said study co-author Ramin Mojtabai, a professor in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a news release. “It is imperative that we find ways to reach these teenagers and help them manage their depression.”
Among its many findings, the study reported that adolescents who experience major depressive episodes were more likely to be girls than boys and more likely to be white than black. Young adults who reported 12-month major depressive episodes were more likely to be unemployed or part-time employed; widowed, divorced, separated or never married; and less likely to have a yearly income between $20,000 and $75,000. Also, compared to young adults who hadn’t experienced such depression, those who had were less likely to be male or black and more likely to have a substance use disorder.
For girls, in particular, prevalence of experiencing a major depressive episode increased from about 13 percent in 2004 to more than 17 percent in 2014, whereas prevalence among boys increased from 4.5 percent to 5.7 percent. Overall during the study period, the number of adolescents who experienced 12-month major depressive episodes increased by more than half a million young people.
But despite the increase in depression, the proportion of adolescents with 12-month major depressive episodes who received mental health care in the prior year did not significantly change during the study period. Though researchers did find a small increase among adolescents in visits to specialty mental health providers, in inpatient and day treatment use, and medication use.
Researchers noted that the study was adjusted to consider the impact of typical factors associated with depression, such as single-parent households, income or an increase in substance abuse. However, they found that such factors could not explain the increasing depression numbers. As for the greater susceptibility among girls, the authors hypothesized that girls may be facing greater exposures to risk factors such as cyberbullying.
“The growing number of depressed adolescents and young adults who do not receive any mental health treatment for their (major depressive episodes) 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,” the study concluded.
Researchers estimate that depression cost the U.S. about $210 billion in 2010 in direct and indirect costs. The mental health condition is also a leading cause of disease and injury.
For a full copy of the depression study, visit Pediatrics.
Kim Krisberg is a freelance public health writer living in Austin, Texas, and has been writing about public health for nearly 15 years.