Major depressive episodes, also known as clinical depression, occur
when someone develops a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure
in daily activities along with other depressive symptoms consistently
for at least two weeks.
The rate of adolescents reporting a recent bout of clinical
depression grew by 37% over the decade ending in 2014, with one
in six girls reporting an episode in the past year, suggests new Johns Hopkins
Bloomberg School of Public Health-led research.
‘The rate of adolescents reporting a recent bout of clinical depression grew by 37% over the decade ending in 2014, with one in six girls reporting an episode in the past year.’
The findings, published online in the journal Pediatrics
, highlight a need to focus on the mental well-being of young people and match those in peril with mental health professionals.
"This shows us there are a growing number of untreated adolescents
with depression and that we are making few inroads in getting mental
health care to this population," says study leader Ramin Mojtabai, a professor in the Department of Mental Health at the
Bloomberg School. "It is imperative that we find ways to reach these
teenagers and help them manage their depression."
Suicide rates have been increasing in recent years, particularly
among adolescent girls and young women. The Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention in November 2016 reported that suicide rates among American
middle school students - those aged 10 to 14 years - were higher than rates of
death from motor vehicle crashes in that age group.
For the study, the researchers analyzed data from the 2005 to 2014
National Surveys on Drug Use and Health on adolescents and young adults
to examine trends in "major depressive episodes" over the previous year.
Overall, 176,245 adolescents aged 12 to 17 and 180,459 adults aged
18 to 25 were involved in the annual study between 2005 and 2014.
Participants were told about symptoms of depression and were asked
whether they had experienced them in the prior year. In 2005, 8.7% of adolescents reported major depressive episodes in the past
year; the figure was 11.3% in 2014. The percentage had remained
relatively steady from 2005 to 2011, but grew from 2012 through 2014.
Among girls, the prevalence of major depressive episodes increased
from 13.1% in 2005 to 17.3% in 2014. White adolescents and
young adults were also more likely than non-whites to experience these
episodes. Among young adults, the prevalence of these episodes grew from
8.8 percent in 2005 to 9.6% in 2014, though the increase was
only found in those ages 18 to 20.
The findings were based only on self-reporting, not on clinical
diagnoses. The researchers controlled for substance abuse and
There were few significant changes in the use of mental health
treatment among those adolescents and young adults with depression. In
adolescents, after 2011, there were small increases in visits to
specialty mental health providers, the use of inpatient and day
treatment centers and medication. These increases, however, were not
enough to keep up with the increases in those with clinical depression.
The increase in some treatment could be related to the expansion of
health insurance under the Affordable Care Act and mental health parity
legislation, though the future of health insurance expansion is in
jeopardy following the recent election of a new U.S. President.
The researchers say it is unclear what is driving the rise in major
depressive episodes, particularly among girls. They say adolescent girls
may have been exposed to a greater degree of depression risk factors in
recent years. Cyberbullying, for example, may have increased more in
girls, as studies have shown that they use mobile phones more frequently
and intensively than boys and problematic mobile phone use among young
people has been linked to depressed mood.
The results coincided with a major economic downturn, however, there
has not been an increase in the prevalence of clinical depression among
adults over the period and this study found no increase among those age
21 to 25.
"The growing number of depressed adolescents and young adults who do
not receive any mental health treatment calls for renewed outreach
efforts, especially in school and college health centers, counseling
services and pediatric practices, where many of the untreated
adolescents and adults with depression may be detected and managed,"