As if parents didn’t have enough to worry about in 2020, early data is revealing the impact of the pandemic on their teenagers’ mental health. Teen depression, in particular, has garnered the spotlight in a recent news article from NPR. Depression rates had already been on the rise prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, but are apparently continuing their upward trend. Most concerning of all is the consistent increase in suicide rates among adolescents and young adults every year since 2007. Presently, suicide is the second leading cause of preventable death in this age group.
The coronavirus event of 2020 has strained mental health resources, with most providers forced to switch from in person therapy sessions to virtual sessions in the spring. As states continue to open up, most locales are back to accepting teen patients back to the therapeutic settings, which is a positive development. Still, many teens with depression go untreated. Possibly their parents do not have health insurance or do not feel comfortable with the idea that their teen may need mental health intervention.
Unfortunately, the longer undiagnosed and untreated depression is allowed to fester, the more risk there is of a more serious outcome. One way to quickly determine if a teen might be struggling with depression is a simple online depression test for teens. The Patient Health Questionnaire-9, or the PHQ-9, can reveal whether an adolescent is experiencing a depressive episode. The questions on the PHQ-9 are directly derived from the DSM-5 diagnostic tool used by mental health professionals to determine if someone has met the criteria for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder. Parents benefit from the information this self-assessment tool provides, and allows them to proceed toward seeking out professional help for their teen.
About Teen Depression
The symptoms of depression happen to be common traits in teens anyway, which makes it difficult to know if the symptoms are due to a mental health issue or just typical teen stressors. Hormonal shifts and the typical teen social drama, often played out over social media, means that teens are naturally moody. However, when symptoms of teen depression escalate or do not subside in two weeks, this may lead to isolation, impairment, and even increase the risk of suicide.
Symptoms of teen depression involve:
- Persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Extreme fatigue or malaise
- Decline in academic performance
- Lack of interest in the activities they once enjoyed
- More frequent crying spells
- Angry outbursts
- Slowed cognitive or motor activity
- Changes in eating habits, sudden weight gain or loss
- Changes in sleeping habits, either insomnia or excessive sleeping
- Withdrawing from friends and family, isolating behaviors
- Thoughts of death or suicide
According to the National Institute on Mental Health, approximately 3.2 million teens ages 12-17 have experienced at least one depressive episode in their young lives. Among females, 20% have experienced clinical depression. Seventy-0ne percent of depressed teens will experience severe impairment from the depressive disorder.
Causes of Teen Depression
The teen years offer ample opportunities to develop depression. Academic competition may lead to feelings of inadequacy or inferiority. Social struggles are a common problem among teens, with social media shaming, bullying, gender identity issues, or difficulty fitting in leading to feelings of despair. Family problems, such as a divorce, relocation, a parent losing their job, a family member battling a serious illness, or the sudden death of a loved one can stoke depression in teens.
A teen that has a history of being physically or sexually abused, neglected, or otherwise mistreated is at a much higher risk of succumbing to depression. Domestic violence, repeated relocations, and general family dysfunction also factor in to a teen developing depression.
In addition to these environmental factors, biology also plays a part in a teen developing depression. When a close family member has a history of depression there is a higher likelihood of other family members also struggling with depression. Personality traits can also factor in, as some teen temperaments may tend toward negativity and hopelessness.
During the pandemic era, many teens are struggling with feeling that their futures are now uncertain. The teen years are usually when thoughts turn toward planning for college admissions and setting life goals, but all of that has been basically put on hold. This sense of uncertainty has added an extra layer of angst for teens to contend with.
Accessing the Online Depression Test for Teens
When a parent begins to notice that their teen is showing the signs of distress, they may initially assume that it is classic teenage moodiness. However, if the symptoms of depression begin to gain traction and do not appear to be dissipating, parents can benefit from a simple 9-question depression assessment tool for teens. When their teen answers the questions a parent just adds up the number of symptoms that the teen is reporting on the quiz to get a feel for how serious the situation is, or isn’t. Should the teen claim 5 or more symptoms on the test that would be enough to assume that the teen is likely experiencing depression.
The online depression test for teens, called the PHQ-9, is derived from the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for depressive disorder. The teen’s answers to the questions can reveal significant information—enough to prompt a parent to have their child evaluated by a mental health professional.
Teen Depression and Self-Harm or Suicide Risk
Teens may engage in self-harming as a way to release the overwhelming emotions they are struggling with, or to gain some sense of control in their life. Self-harm is not about seeking attention or trying to commit suicide. Instead, self-harming behaviors become a sort of coping skill. However, he teens that do engage in self-harm are at a higher risk for suicide attempts or suicide.
Depression can increase the risk of suicide by 12-fold, especially when one of the depression symptoms is hopelessness. Teen suicide is on the rise, even in the very young middle school age group. Be alert to such signs as a teen obsessing about death or suicide or stating that everyone would be better off without them. The teen might be giving away their prized possessions, or have completely pulled away from their social connections. Parents need to be on the lookout for pills or a weapon that the teen might have obtained with the intention of taking their life.
Spotting the Danger Signs of Teen Depression
Teens who struggle with depression may not necessarily have developed the coping tools or resilience abilities to manage their emotional state. As a result of their suffering, teens may begin to experiment with drugs or alcohol, they may stop attending school, or they may even leave home. All of these maladaptive responses to the state of depression will only add to their despair, and the negative consequences will increase.
While these are the more extreme signs of serious depression in a teen, parents who are able to recognize less obvious signs of emotional distress will be able to intervene before things reach that point. In addition to the classic depression symptoms listed above, some of the other warning signs of teen depression or mental distress include:
- Isolating and withdrawing from friends and family
- Mood swings
- Excessive sleeping
- Engaging in high-risk behaviors
- Neglecting personal hygiene or appearance
- Rapid decline in school performance
Outpatient Treatment for Teens with Depression
Parents who become alarmed at the signs of depression in their teen will be advised to have the teen examined first by a family doctor who can rule out a medical cause for the symptoms. Once the physician determines that the symptoms are not related to a health issue he or she will refer the teen to a mental health provider.
Outpatient depression treatment for teens focuses primarily on psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy and solutions focused therapy. Family therapy sessions are also recommended to enable family members to improve communication between each other and offer support for the teen. In some cases, the teen may be put on antidepressant drug therapy, although these medications carry some risks.
Residential Psychiatric Services for Teen Depression
Residential treatment is an appropriate level of care for teens that have not experienced sufficient relief from depression symptoms through outpatient care. These teens may experience declining mental health that is contributing to impairment in daily functioning, social problems, poor academic performance, and increasing withdrawal. The residential mental health program offers a more intensive program that allows the teen to engage more deeply in their treatment and focus attention on getting better.
Residential treatment programs create highly individualized treatment plans for helping the teen overcome the depressive disorder. Daily therapeutic activities include:
- Individual psychotherapy sessions
- Group therapy sessions
- Family-focused therapy sessions
- Experiential activities, such as outdoor sports and outings
- Holistic therapies, such as yoga and mindfulness training
- Academic support
- Medication management
- Medical detox, if applicable
Teens struggling with depression will find the residential setting provides an opportunity to take a break from their regular daily life and devote their energy to treatment. For teens experiencing significant impairment, the residential program offers a comprehensive, holistic approach to reclaiming wellness.
BNI Treatment Centers Residential Treatment for Teens
BNI Treatment Center is a Los Angeles residential mental health program for teens in distress. BNI Treatment is owned and operated by two psychiatrists who head a team of expert mental health professionals that specialize in teen psychiatric care. At BNI Treatment the doctors provide in depth testing for depression and other mental health conditions, and will create a tailored treatment plan accordingly. If your son or daughter answered five or more questions “yes” on the depression test for teens, reach out to the BNI Treatment team today at (888) 522-1504.