Depression is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions, and it’s not just adults who are at risk.

Children and teens face a number of challenges that can spur on depressive symptoms like sadness, loss of interest in schoolwork and activities, and withdrawal from loved ones. When these symptoms remain consistent over a period of two weeks or longer, a diagnosis of depression could be warranted.

With all this in mind, it’s worth asking: are depression rates increasing in children and teens? And if so, what should parents do if they see signs and symptoms? Here’s what to know.

Depression Rates Among Teens and Younger

Research suggests that depression rates among teens and children aren’t just significant; they’re also on the rise.

Depression rates by age paint a stark picture, with increased incidences of depression among children as young as three years old. And while the pandemic may be partially to blame, statistics show that rates were increasing even before 2020, with major implications for how kids are coping in their day-to-day lives.

Here are some key takeaways from recent findings:

  • In a 2020 study, 4% of participating kids aged 17 and younger had been diagnosed with depression in the past year – an increase from 3.1% in 2016
  • Despite the increase in diagnosed depression rates among teens and children, there was a slight decrease between 2016 and 2020 in kids who received mental health care
  • Depression rates are increasing faster among girls than boys, with adolescent girls experiencing a 12% increase in depression rates between 2009 and 2019 compared to 3.7% of adolescent boys

Depression can impact kids of any age, race, and socioeconomic background. For parents, it’s important to know about the rising rate of youth depression and the possible causes at its root. This helps bring more context to the conversation and can make parents aware of the unique challenges their children are facing.

Possible Explanations for Rising Adolescent Depression Rates

When it comes to contextualizing depression statistics, 2023 was another year with a lot of challenges for kids. As a result, it’s another year that we may see an uptick in rates of depressive symptoms among this vulnerable age group.

Some explanations for increased depression rates among children and teens include academic pressures and socioeconomic factors, plus changes in family dynamics and stability brought on by the pandemic. Social media and technology play a role, too, opening the door to social isolation, bullying, and decreased self-esteem.

Equally critical is overall increased awareness of youth depression. It’s not just that kids are experiencing significant rates of depression but that they’re being provided with more opportunities for diagnosis and treatment.

Why It’s Important to Address Depression in Children and Teens

Left untreated, depression in childhood becomes more likely to persist into adulthood. It also increases the risk of serious consequences like academic and behavioral issues, family conflict, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and decreased quality of life.

There’s also concern about untreated depression and co-occurring disorders. Depression puts kids at a higher risk of other conditions, including substance use and eating disorders, and these can further reduce life satisfaction in childhood and beyond.

Of course, treating a child or teen’s depression doesn’t just help avoid these negative outcomes. It also offers direct positive benefits, especially in terms of the parent-child relationship and the general atmosphere of the home.

What Parents Can Do

If you are a parent who is concerned that your young child or teen is depressed, the best thing you can do is open up the lines of communication and speak to your child about mental health. It’s possible that your child doesn’t understand what’s going on, or that they’re ashamed or otherwise unwilling to be the one to start the conversation.

It’s important that your child knows they won’t be judged for their feelings. Practice active listening when speaking to them, and recognize the validity of their feelings even if you can’t relate.

If your child is reluctant to discuss the topic, let them know you are there for them when they’re ready to talk. You can also provide resources for professional support, such as encouraging them to make an appointment with a school counselor or finding them a therapist.

Youth depression is concerning, but you and your child are not on your own. Please explore the Retreat Family website to learn about available resources, and contact us for information on Retreat behavioral and mental health services for young adults.