Does your teen or young adult suffer from depression or anxiety?

Something happened to my daughter. I am terrified. I am alone. I’m exhausted. It’s my responsibility to keep her safe and happy and I’m failing as a mother. For weeks my once vibrant beautiful daughter with long red hair, blue eyes, who was always proud of her looks, retreated to bed. His hair is matted and heavy from not having washed it in days. The air in his room stagnates. It is absolutely black with the shades drawn. She does not eat. She sleeps all the time. She doesn’t see any friends and she doesn’t go to school. She picks on me or stares at me when I try to engage her. I miss his laugh. I miss the sound of his voice. She’s not my daughter. My daughter, who used to blast music, sing loudly, FaceTime friends around the clock, and find a reason to live happily, barely lives.

Those are the words of Tanya Trevett, a Boston-based former special education teacher and single mother of three teenage girls. Trevett’s eldest daughter Emma, ​​17, suffers from anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. In her diary, Trevett traced Emma’s “journey” from being an outgoing girl whose report card was a streak of A’s and whose afternoons were spent playing football, to a teenager who could at barely function – a girl she barely recognized.

A disturbing trend

Unfortunately, Trevett’s experience is not uncommon. The country is in the midst of what US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, recently warned was a growing mental health crisis among young people. Disturbing figures confirm his fears. In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that more than four in 10 teens reported feeling “persistently sad or hopeless” in 2021. It was the latest in a series of troubling statistics. The CDC also found that suicide rates among young people aged 10 to 24, which had remained stable from 2000 to 2007, jumped nearly 60% in 2018. And suicide is now the second leading cause of death among young people. students.

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Some young people are more at risk than others. A government survey of nearly 8,000 secondary school students, conducted in the first six months of 2021, found that the rate of major depressive episodes was higher among teenage girls (25.2%) than boys ( 9.2%). Between 1991 and 2017, suicide attempts by black teens increased by 73%, compared to a 7.5% decline among white teens. But the rise in depression and suicide is affecting all demographic groups – no ethnic group, social class, race or gender identity has been immune to it.

What’s behind the crisis?


The COVID-19 pandemic fueled the crisis, of course, experts say: it disrupted basic developmental experiences, such as senior year, graduation, and the transition to college. “The social component was particularly brutal,” says Lucas Zullo, a clinical psychologist with the UCLA Youth Stress and Mood program. People are at lower risk for depression if they’re “able to bond with friends, family and have these strong, supportive interactions,” he notes. “All of that was washed away when we were in full lockdown.”

But the CDC found that rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among teens and young adults were on the rise before COVID-19. Zullo and other mental health professionals believe the pandemic has only accelerated and accentuated them.

They point to other powerful influences on young people’s mental well-being, such as technology. For one thing, social media is a great way to stay connected, says Laurence Steinberg, a Temple University psychology professor and adolescent specialist. But we also know [that] for some children, social media has a detrimental effect on their mental health. It’s a minority of children, but it turns out that it’s the children who are the most vulnerable. When the popular goes online, she sees a lot of great things about herself. She gets lots of compliments from her friends. She gets a lot of likes and communication about common interests. The unpopular goes online and she’s going to feel left out, and she’s not liked. In a way, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

However, the impact of social media on children’s mental health may not be entirely related to the experience of using it, but rather to what this activity displaces. “We know that depression is correlated with a lack of enough sleep and a lack of enough exercise,” Steinberg says. “If social media prevents children from engaging in activities that are good for them, it contributes to poor mental health.”

Relentless bad news

And then there’s the news: a powerful cocktail of political divisions, school shootings, an uncertain economy, climate change and a war in Ukraine. The hits seem to follow one another. “We have access to this information, but we’re not good at disconnecting from it,” says Shannon Bennett, clinical site director at the New York-Presbyterian Youth Anxiety Center. “It constantly keeps us connected to the things that scare us the most.”

Difficult transitions, high expectations

The transition from high school to college can be particularly tricky to manage. “There can be many sources of pressure during this developmental period, including achieving educational and career goals and becoming financially independent of parents,” says Autumn Kujawa, assistant professor of psychology and human development at the University. Vanderbilt.

Adding to the anxiety, some teenagers and young adults worry that they will never be as well off as their parents. “The job market is competitive and tough,” says Steinberg, who also points to the increased competitiveness of college admissions as a stressor for high-achieving high schoolers. “Colleges have not expanded their freshman classes in proportion to the increase in the number of people applying to go to college,” he notes. “There’s this feeling that it’s not enough to be excellent, you have to be perfect. It is a standard that no one can meet. »

And dominant parenting styles can affect young people’s ability to cope. There are well-meaning parents who want to protect their children from anything harmful, for example. “We’ve heard of helicopter parenting — now there’s snowplow parenting, where some parents will try to remove any stressors or hiccups from their child’s path,” says Bennett.

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