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  • Writer's pictureDani Brinberg

Mental Illness in Teenagers

Clinical depression is one of the most common mental disorders. Around 20% of teenagers experience depression at some point before reaching adulthood, and only around 30% of these teens get the help that they need.

Major depression is an issue for all groups, but it affects teens differently. It is common for teenagers to feel as if their parents, teachers, friends, and others are setting high expectations for them to meet. When they cannot meet these expectations, hopelessness can occur, which can result in depression. With depression, students frequently experience a severe lack of motivation to complete their school work or to socialize with their friends and family. This lack of motivation can take over their lives and make it hard for them to complete everyday tasks that a healthy person wouldn’t think twice about doing.

It is also very common for people with severe depression to lose interest in things that they used to be passionate about, which tends to weaken their overall mental state and sadly sometimes even their will to live. A 2017 study showed that 17% of high school students reported they had seriously considered taking their own life. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for the 15-24 age group. People in your everyday life are suffering even though you may not be able to tell.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. SAD most commonly starts affecting people in the fall and affects people the most in January and February. A highly probable reason that people start experiencing depression in the colder months is because of the decrease in the number of hours of natural light in these months. It is important to clarify that SAD does not just mean feeling more tired or “stressed” in the winter. That sense of tiredness is a milder version of SAD, nicknamed “The Winter Blues”, and it is a very common feeling, whereas Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs in around 5% of Americans. It is when a person’s winter blues start affecting every aspect of their life that they could be experiencing SAD. Someone with SAD will start feeling tired, irritable, hypersensitive, and generally unmotivated when the days start shortening, and his or her symptoms will worsen with the progression of winter. As we continue through winter, it’s important to recognize the roughly 10 million Americans who suffer daily from SAD.

Depression is closely linked to another mental illness, anxiety. Similar to depression, anxiety is very common in teens, with 25% of all teens suffering from it. Anxiety is commonly linked to depression because depression sparks feelings of anxiety for those who have it, but anxiety can be a completely separate disorder as well. People with anxiety suffer from extreme and uncontrollable feelings of fear, self-doubt, and panic. In the teenage age group, anxiety has risen the most rapidly in recent years compared to any other mental illness, with depression close behind it. So what is causing this rapid increase in mental illness numbers?

One hypothesis is that as the world we are being raised in gets progressively worse, our mental health as a generation is getting worse. The world around us is scarier than ever, with school shootings growing more and more common, the global crisis worsening by the day, COVID-19 taking over our lives, and so much more. For young people who don’t know how to process information as intense as that which we receive right now -- the constant circulation of horrifying news stories is incredibly overwhelming and anxiety-provoking.

Additionally, when the pandemic hit last year, a whole new trigger of fear was added to our lives. COVID has taken a huge toll on U.S. mental health. Depression and anxiety numbers have spiked due to isolation, the struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the upsetting loss of many lives. In addition, people who were struggling with anxiety and depression before the pandemic now have a whole new layer of stress to take in. For example, people who struggle with Seasonal Affective Disorder now lack their support systems because outdoor COVID-safe gatherings with friends and family are restricted due to the cold weather. The inability to connect and socialize with people is very likely to cause depression symptoms to worsen. As we brave through the pandemic, we should remember the struggles of people with diagnosed mental illnesses.


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