Depression is increasing among teenagers and young adults, but researchers aren’t sure why. What is certain is that treatment is not growing at the same rate as prevalence.
A recent study published in Pediatrics revealed that the prevalence of major depressive episodes (MDEs) over a 12-month period increased in adolescents from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.3% by 2014. There was a similar jump in prevalence among young adults, rising from 8.8% to 9.6%. Even after adjustment for substance abuse disorders and socioeconomic status, the investigators say the rise in depression in the 12-years to 20-years age group was “significant.”
The risk of depression rises sharply as children enter the adolescent years, according to the report, and MDEs are more common in young adults who were unemployed or employed only part time, or who had family incomes below $20,000 per year. For teenagers, prevalence rose with the presence of additional factors, such as age, income, and substance abuse disorders. Girls also had a higher chance of experiencing an MDE, growing from 13.1% in 2004 to 17.3% by 2014 compared with 4.5% in boys in 2004 to 5.7% by 2014.
“This aligns with past studies that also found a larger increase in depressive symptoms in girls than boys in more recent years, and recent data on trends in suicide in the United States that identified a greater increase among adolescent girls and young women. Adolescent girls may have been exposed to a greater degree to depression risk factors in recent years. For example, cyberbullying may have increased more dramatically among girls than boys,” the study notes. “As compared with adolescent boys, adolescent girls also now use mobile phones with texting applications more frequently and intensively and problematic mobile phone use among young people has been linked to depressed mood. Interestingly, the sex differences in trends were not consistent across age groups, as the prevalence of depression followed similar temporal trends in young men and women.”
Prevalence was also higher among non-Hispanic whites than in minority groups, according to the report.
Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, New York, research psychiatrist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, and one of the study authors, says the study findings highlight the problem of undertreated depression in young people.
“The recent national increase in depression among young people, most of whom receive no treatment for their symptoms, underscores the importance of improving the detection and treatment of depression in pediatric primary care,” Olfson says. “Using standardized depression screening tools, such as the Patient Health Questionnaire for Adolescents, may improve identification and triage of young people with depression. Follow-up assessments are also important to confirm the diagnosis.”