Describing teens as moody and angsty is an old cliche. That stage of life is loaded with drama and intense feelings. And it was ever thus—just go back read your high school diary for evidence. But while anxiety and sadness aren’t new phenomena among adolescents, there’s been a significant increase in the percentage of young people aged 12-20 who have reported having a major depressive episode (MDE).
A study of national trends in depression among adolescents and young adults published in the journal Pediatrics on November 14 found that the prevalence of teens who reported an MDE in the previous 12 months jumped from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.5% in 2014. That’s a 37 percent increase. (An MDE is defined as a period of at least two weeks of low mood that is present in most situations. Symptoms include low self-esteem, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, and problems with sleep, energy and concentration.)
Despite the rise in teen depression, the study, which analyzed data from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, reported that there hasn’t a corresponding increase in mental health treatment for adolescents and young adults. Researchers said this is an indication that there is a growing number of young people who are under-treated or not treated at all for their symptoms. Meanwhile, among those who did get help, treatment tended to be more intense, often involving specialized care by in-patient and outpatient providers and including prescription medications. (This may be due in part to increased mental health coverage in the wake of new health care parity laws.)
This information won’t come as a surprise to school counselors and clinicians who’ve seen a rise in depression, anxiety and related incidents of self-harm first hand, as reported in TIME’s Nov. 7th cover story “The Kids Are Not All Right.” The number of kids who are struggling with these issues is staggering. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than three million adolescents aged 12-17 reported at least one major depressive episode in the past year, and more than two million reported severe depression that impeded their daily functioning.
Ellen Chance, co-president of the Palm Beach School Counselor Association, says that in her region “anxiety and depression are affecting kids’ behavior and their ability to learn which can lead to dropping out or home school.” Getting resources to these students is essential for them to function in school. She’s working with the National Alliance for Mental Illness to get more counselors trained to identify mental health disorders, but it’s not easy. Counselors are often responsible for more than 500 kids and have other duties as well, often including administering state tests.
In Montana, where major depressive episodes have also spiked, there’s a dearth of trained counselors that can get to all the schools in the sparsely populated state so officials are trying implement tele-counselling programs.