Depression affects people of all ages, but it is especially prevalent in teenagers.
In 2015, the National Institute of Mental Health estimated that 3 million adolescents in the U.S. between the ages of 12 and 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the previous 12 months. That represents 12.5 percent of the population in that age group. The Institute also reports that about a 21 percent prevalence of anxiety disorders in the same age group.
The statistics don’t surprise child psychiatrist Bart Main, MD at the Centers for Behavioral Health of Cape Cod Healthcare.
“I’m seeing a lot more anxiety and there is certainly no shortage of patients,” he said. “But I don’t think we have clear scientific evidence what this is due to.”
Dr. Main has some theories and one of them is the prevalence of social media. The amount of time teenagers spend on these platforms makes them psychologically vulnerable, he said. Websites like Facebook and Instagram are like a continuous on-going popularity contest that can hurt a teen’s self-esteem. Snapchat can be used as a weapon to bully, and leaves no evidence behind.
“What a really unique way to harass somebody,” said Dr. Main. “You send them a picture that disappears in six seconds. They can’t recover it. They can’t show it to anybody. They can’t prove it was there, but it still hurts them.”
Monitor Social Media
Children and teenagers usually don’t have the self-control to self-monitor their screen time, so Dr. Main recommends that parents remove all electronics at least a half hour before bedtime so the kids won’t be tempted to use them.
His second recommendation is for parents to have access to all of their children’s social media accounts so they can periodically check what their child is up to.
“The child should not have any trepidation about sharing this life experience with their parents,” he said.
Family dinners are a good way for parents to check in with their kids and get a sense of their mood and mental health. There’s no need to interrogate children about their day, Dr. Main said. Just spending time together is enough.
Adolescents are under more pressure today than previous generations were, he said. Ten years ago the graduation rate from college was only 40 percent and high school was 65 percent. Today there is an expectation that every high school student must get at least a two-year degree or they won’t be able to find a job.
“That puts enormous pressure on at least half of the kids who wouldn’t usually have gone to college,” he said.