Depression in kids and teens
If you’ve been thinking that your kids might seem a little on edge, or withdrawn, or moody, it’s probably not your imagination. A growing percentage of American youth are living with depression.
15% of youth experienced a major depressive episode within the last year. 1
10% of youth suffer from ongoing severe depression, which is depression that severely affects daily functioning. That rate is even higher — 14.5% — for youth who identify as multiracial.1
There was a 40% increase in mental health emergency visits at children’s hospitals last year.2
Signs of depression in children3
Just because your child seems down for a few days doesn’t mean they have clinical depression that warrants professional help. But as a parent, you could definitely benefit from being able to recognize the common signs of depression in kids and being familiar with the mental health resources available to support your family.
How do you know if your child may be suffering from depression? Here are some signs to watch for:
- Increased or uncharacteristic crankiness, anger, or aggression
- Continuous feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Social withdrawal
- Being more sensitive to rejection
- Changes in appetite, either increased or decreased
- Changes in sleep (sleeplessness or excessive sleep)
- Vocal outbursts or crying
- Trouble concentrating
- Fatigue and low energy
- Physical complaints (such as stomachaches and headaches) that don’t respond to treatment
- Trouble (such as getting into fights) during events and activities at home or with friends, in school, during extracurricular activities, and with other hobbies or interests
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Impaired thinking or concentration
- Thoughts of death or suicide
Why teens are depressed4
Of course, living through a pandemic hasn’t done much to reduce our kids’ anxieties. But that’s just one component that’s contributed to the waning mental health of our youth. Here are four areas experts have pinpointed to explain the high rise in depression among today’s teens:
- Social media use. Teens are uniquely sensitive to the judgment of friends, teachers, and the digital crowd. Social media hijacks this keen peer sensitivity and drives obsessive thinking about body image and popularity.
- Decreased sociality. More aloneness (including from heavy smartphone use) and more loneliness (including from school closures) might have combined to increase sadness among teenagers who need sociality to protect them from the pressures of a stressful world.
- Constant influx of negative news. News sources have never been more abundant or more accessible. Plus, journalism has a famous bad-news bias. When teens plug their brain into a news feed, they’re deluging themselves with negative representations of reality.
- Modern parenting strategies. First, children are growing up slower than they used to. Today’s children are less likely to drive, get a summer job, or be asked to do chores, all of which teach children two very important skills: tolerating discomfort and having a sense of personal competence. Second, more parents are using an “accommodative” parenting style, which basically means that they shield their kids from the things their kids find unpleasant. If kids never figure out how to release negative emotions in the face of inevitable stress, they’re more likely to experience severe anxiety as teenagers.
175,000 and counting
That’s the number of children who have lost a parent or caregiver to COVID-19. Your child may be included in that number — or interacting with another who has been profoundly affected by the loss of a loved one. Depression and grief have different qualities, and how children deal with grief depends on their age. Talking to an EAP counselor is a good place to start.
Have your child talk to your primary care physician about their symptoms. Your doctor can perform an assessment and determine what kind of treatment, if any, may be most beneficial. Most mental and behavioral health services are covered to varying degrees by Lenovo’s Cigna and Kaiser plans.
Employee Assistance Program
Have your child talk to an EAP counselor. It’s free and confidential! Just talking through their problems could be enough to help them feel better. If necessary, their counselor can direct them to more specialized services.
Explore these resources from our medical provider, Cigna, and back-up care provider, Bright Horizons:
- Making Space for Teenagers to Talk
- Mental Health: Taking Care of Ourselves and Others
- Parenting Teens: How to Stay Connected
- What Happened to My Kid? Get Help Navigating the Onset of Normal Adolescent Rebellion
1 Mental Health America, The State of Mental Health in America.
2 Rhitu Chatterjee, Kids are back in school — and struggling with mental health issues, NPR, January 7, 2022.
3 Jennifer Casarella, MD, Depression in Children, WebMD, February 21, 2021.
4 Derek Thompson, Why American Teens Are So Sad, The Atlantic, April 11, 2022.