Depression in adolescents trending upward, research shows

sadness-1344994_1280Mojtabai, R., Olfson, M., & Han, B. (2016). National trends in the prevalence and treatment of depression in adolescents and young adults. Pediatrics 138(6). DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-1878.

Summarized by Justin Preston




The risk of developing depression rises sharply once children reach adolescence. Surveys of a nationwide sample of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 found that nearly one in eleven youths meet the criteria for a major depressive disorder or dysthymia, which is a continuous, long-term form of depression that can stifle interest in normal daily activities, among other symptoms. There have been reports of increasing antidepressant usage among adolescents, and this, combined with other factors, has fueled concerns have been growing that depression is increasing among today’s youth. In the present study, the researchers examined 12 month trends in the prevalence of depression among young people by using data from the 2005 to 2014 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).



According to the authors, “the NSDUH is a cross-sectional annual survey of the US population in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.” The NSDUH provides nationally representative data on depression and its treatment among youth who have not been institutionalized and are 12 years old or older. Overall, 176,245 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 were interviewed as part of the NSDUH studies. 180,459 adults aged 18 to 25 were also interviewed. The final sample for this study consisted of 172,495 adolescents and 178,755 young adults.

The interview assessed participants’ major depressive episodes during the previous 12 months and over the course of the respondents’ lifetime. Treatments for depression were assessed by asking whether, during the past 12 months, participants had seen or spoken with a medical doctor or other professional about their depression.



Of the adolescents and young adults who participated in the study, 8.7% (N=15,529) and 8.6% (N=15,603) met the criteria for 12-month Major Depressive Episode (MDE). In comparison with adolescents without MDE, those adolescents with MDE included a disproportionate number of older adolescents, nonstudents, unemployed individuals, adolescents from households with no parents or with single parents, and adolescents with substance use disorders. Adolescents with MDE were also less likely to be boys than girls and non-Hispanic black than non-Hispanic white. Compared to young adults without MDE, those with MDE were less likely to be men and non-Hispanic black and more likely to have a substance abuse disorder.

In adolescents, the prevalence of MDE was stable during the 2006-2011 period. However, this rate gradually increased in the later years of the project, growing from 8.7% in 2011 to 11.3% in 2014. The change was more modest in the young adult group, but still an increase from 8.8% to 9.6%. This change among young adults was limited to the 18-20-year-old set.



As the authors state, “Each year almost 1 in 11 adolescents and young adults have an MDE. The prevalence of these episodes increased between 2005 and 2014. The trend was limited to those in

the 12 to 20 age range, and was somewhat more prominent among non-Hispanic whites than minority

groups and among adolescent girls than boys.” In other words, girls were more at risk of developing depression than boys, and minority groups did not exhibit the same increased prevalence that was observed in non-Hispanic white participants. While future research should corroborate these findings, the growth in prevalence in depression among youth during a critical transition period (18-20 years) is cause for some concern.


Implications for Mentoring

As a mentor, it is important to understand that there is a possibility your mentee may experience depression. From the American Psychological Association (APA), “Depression is more than just sadness. People with depression may experience a lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.”

Depression is the most common mental disorder in American today. The good news is, however, that depression is treatable. A combination of therapy and antidepressant medication can help ensure recovery. In your role as a mentor, there are concrete things you can do to help a mentee who is struggling with depression in addition to their therapy. Below are some helpful links and tips from the APA in tackling depression:


What You Can Do

Social isolation increases the risk of depression. But it turns out that spending too much time discussing problems with friends could actually increase depression as well.

Exercise is an effective, cost-effective treatment for depression and may help in the treatment of other mental disorders.

Getting Help

Depression is a real illness and carries with it a high cost in terms of relationship problems, family suffering and lost work productivity. Yet, depression is a highly treatable illness, with psychotherapy, coping and cognitive-behavioral techniques, and medication.