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Depression and Anxiety In Adolescence

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, MA, NCC 

Nearly 70%-80% of children who receive mental health services access these services through school-based programs; however, bullying, depression, anxiety, social isolation, peer victimization, and suicidal ideation are still rampant among high school adolescents. According to the World Health Organization, 16% of global disease for individuals aged 10-19 is attributable to mental health conditions, suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents aged 15-19, and 50% of mental health conditions begin by the age of 14 (WHO, 2020). Despite the prevalence of mental health conditions among adolescents, less than half receive treatment. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, if left untreated, mental health conditions can have lasting consequences including substance abuse and even suicide. 

While the prevalence of depression is negligible prior to the age of 12, it increases exponentially during adolescence, afflicting roughly 17-25% of the population by the conclusion of adolescence. Furthermore, the onset of depression in earlier developmental stages can signal more severe depression in later stages. Depression is also a significant risk factor for suicide among the adolescent population, with roughly half of those that die by suicide meeting the criteria for a depressive episode or depressive disorder at their time of death. Suicide rates among adolescents have risen dramatically over the years and is now regarded as the third leading cause of death among the adolescent population. A survey administered by the CDC in 2010 to establish high risk behaviors among youths also revealed that over 6% of adolescents had made a suicide attempt in the previous year and nearly 14% had suicidal ideation. 

Along with suicidality, adolescent depression is implicated in adult anxiety, bipolar and substance use disorders as well as higher unemployment rates and general health problems. Research also suggests that depression frequently co-occurs with other mental health disorders, with roughly 3 out of every 4 adolescents also having an anxiety disorder. Moreover, a connection has long been established between adolescent coping behaviors and higher levels of depression and suicidal ideation. This further evidences the need for targeted prevention and intervention strategies that foster social competence, emotion regulation, and resilience while simultaneously mitigating the acuity of adolescent mental health conditions. 

While depression in adolescence is often implicated as a precipitant to pathology in young adulthood, anxiety is the most prevalent mental health condition among adolescents, with an estimated 31% meeting the criteria for an anxiety disorder. Research also shows that adolescent anxiety can serve as a predictor for chronic stress, unemployment, and maladjustment in adulthood. Despite the pervasiveness and longstanding consequences of anxiety disorders, the rate of anxiety among the adolescent population continues to rise while the number of adolescents undergoing treatment remains steadily at half. While anxiety in adulthood can present as racing thoughts, feelings of dread or impending doom, or excessive worry, children and adolescents are more likely to experience behavioral and somatic manifestations of anxiety, including outbursts, fidgeting, inability to sit still, and others. This makes it all the more difficult for parents and educators to recognize and further necessitates the need for proper education pertaining to the identification and treatment of the presenting symptomatology. Because anxiety disorders often emerge prior to adulthood, are precipitated by social and environmental factors, and can manifest as behavioral problems, the need for prevention and early intervention is paramount.  

In order to prevent, address, and treat mental health issues in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, it is important to teach healthy coping skills. When children are young, they are taught how to solve mathematical equations and put words together to form sentences; however, they are seldom taught how to handle and express difficult emotions. Relaxation and mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, which can calm the nervous system, progressive muscle relaxation, visualization, and guided meditation can provide a space to notice, accept, and ultimately process these less comfortable emotional states. Journaling and gratitude lists can also provide a safe space for children and adolescents to express painful feelings that they may otherwise struggle to communicate while also shifting their perspective to notice and appreciate the things that bring them joy. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms of anxiety or depression, counseling can provide a space not only to talk through difficult or painful emotions but to learn coping skills and tools to lessen symptom severity. Call Symmetry Counseling at (312) 578-9990 to speak to an intake specialist or visit our site for more information about family therapy in Chicago.

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