Nearly one in every 10 American teenagers experienced major depression last year, and less than half received proper treatment, according to government statistics .
Overall, nine percent of teenagers, or 2.2 million, were depressed, with older teens more at risk than their younger peers, said the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA.
The older age bracket (16-17) was more likely to suffer from severe depression (12 per cent) than those in the younger group (5 per cent). Among those aged 14 or 15, nine percent experienced a major episode.
"These new data is a wake-up call to parents. They should realize that mental health is a critical part of the overall health and well-being of their children," said SAMHSA administrator Charles Curie.
The report surveyed 70,000 people in the United States aged 12 and older. Major depression was considered a period of at least two weeks that included a loss of interest, depressed mood and at least four other symptoms such as a change in sleeping, eating or concentration.
The report noted that the real tragedy was that there were still so many young people who were not receiving the appropriate and effective treatment they need.
The number of depressed teens had hovered at about 10 percent for 15 to 20 years. Despite the fact that it is common and has a huge impact on children and their lives, the parents and the system have not been addressing this serious illness. Adding to treatment difficulties were a limited number of specialized caregivers, insurance issues and difficulty faced by parents and teachers in noticing the symptoms.
Treatment for depression among teenagers became a controversial issue when a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientist concluded in early 2004 that anti-depressants posed a suicide risk in youth. Another university-sponsored study showed a similar link.
The FDA has since required drug manufacturers to disclose the possible risk on labels for anti-depressants. Some experts, including doctors, worried the warning would lead to fewer youths receiving treatment.
The current findings, part of the agency's annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, also showed very depressed adolescents aged 12 to 17 were twice as likely to engage in substance abuse than those who were not depressed. About 28 percent of depressed teens used alcohol, while 23 percent smoked cigarettes and about 21 percent used drugs.
Among those who did not report a major episode, about 17 percent drank alcohol, about 11 percent smoked, and about 10 percent used drugs.