Major depression is on the rise in youth, especially teenage girls: study

Click to play video: 'Tortured Mind: Personal stories of mental illness and youth suicide'
Tortured Mind: Personal stories of mental illness and youth suicide
WATCH: Personal stories of mental illness and youth suicide – Nov 13, 2016

American doctors say there’s been a steep climb in rates of major depression in adolescents – and most of them aren’t getting mental health treatment.

The troublesome findings coming out of the U.S. follow on the heels of the release of Tortured Mind, a Global News investigation published Sunday that looks at the prevalence of mental illness in Canadian youth and what happens when mental health literacy isn’t taught to this vulnerable segment of the population.

On Monday, Columbia University scientists repeated what experts said in the Tortured Mind series: a growing number of youth grappling with mental health concerns aren’t receiving treatment for their symptoms and that the onus for awareness and outreach falls on college campuses, pediatric practices and high schools to change the landscape.

“These are fairly impressive increases in depression and should be of concern to parents, teachers and pediatricians … these trends support a renewed focus on outreach, early detection and intervention for depression in young people,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Mark Olfson, told Global News.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: What happens when mental health education isn’t taught to kids

Olfson is a psychiatry professor at the university’s medical centre where he focuses on studying strategies to improve mental health care.

“Depression in adolescents is more common than many teachers and parents realize. Unlike some mental health problems that present primarily with disruptive behaviours that attract attention and are easy to recognize, depression poses a greater challenge. It is important for parents to learn about warning signs of depression in young people,” Olfson said.

His research, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, pored over data from U.S. national surveys on drug use and health between 2005 and 2014. He zeroed in on teenagers 12 to 17 years old along with young adults between 18 and 25.

Turns out, cases of major depression climbed from 8.7 per cent in 2005 to 11.3 per cent in 2014 – a 37 per cent increase.

The spike in depression was even more prominent in teenage girls: “In relative terms, [the climb] represents a 31 per cent [increase] in girls,” Olfson told Global News.
Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Ontario schools are missing ‘perfect opportunity’ to address mental health amid rash of youth suicides

The latest health and medical news emailed to you every Sunday.

Depression seeps into adolescents’ academic, social and health outcomes. It leaves teens at an increased risk of substance abuse, early pregnancy and suicide, he warned.

There are many reasons why teens don’t get the help they need, Olfson said.

“Sometimes parents think their child is simply passing through a phase and have trouble recognizing depression. For others stigma interferes with seeking out treatment or parents may not believe that effective treatment exists,” he explained.

Olfson’s next steps are to look at the availability and effectiveness of care that’s available to young people who turn to the emergency department of hospitals for help after attempting suicide.

WATCH: The mental health crisis in Canada explained

Click to play video: 'Tortured mind: The mental health crisis in Canada explained'
Tortured mind: The mental health crisis in Canada explained

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in 15 to 24 year olds in the country, second only to accidental deaths, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). It estimates that 4,000 Canadians die from suicide each year.

Story continues below advertisement

Up to 20 per cent — or one in five — of young Canadians are affected by a mental illness or disorder. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, eating disorders, and substance abuse are most typical for this age group.

READ MORE: How mental health should be taught in Canadian schools

The CMHA estimates that about five per cent of young men and 12 per cent of young women between 12 and 19 have experienced severe depression. These startling statistics are why experts say introducing mental health education in the classroom is the key to preventing and identifying mental illnesses in young people.

In Tortured Mind, experts say mental health literacy should be introduced in grade school even if it’s taught at a rudimentary level.

“Education can’t get rid of mental illness but it can give you the tools you need to do what you can to stack the odds in your favour that you won’t get it,” Dr. Stanley Kutcher, a child psychiatrist and chair of adolescent mental health at Dalhousie University, told Global News.

Without this education, misinformation and isolation run rampant. Stigma festers, kids turn to dark corners of the internet for advice, and they take up dangerous coping mechanisms.

(Matthew Peleshok/Global News)

Story continues below advertisement

Where to get help

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868  all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.

Sponsored content