Teen anxiety and depression: Why today’s teens are struggling more than ever

Teens today are facing a crisis: more teens than ever are struggling with anxiety and depression. The problem has become such an epidemic that pediatricians recently called for universal depression screening for all teens. Only about half of adolescents with depression get diagnosed before reaching adulthood. Even scarier, as many as 2 in 3 depressed teens do not get the care that could help them. Here at Shelterwood, we are on the front lines of this crisis, serving struggling teens as they overcome anxiety, depression and other challenges. Explore what makes this crisis unique to today’s teenagers, and what is contributing to this epidemic.

A quickly growing problem

In its annual survey of students, the American College Health Association found a significant increase of undergraduates reporting “overwhelming anxiety” in the previous year. Furthermore, an annual survey by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA points to the rise as well. In 1985, 18% said they “felt overwhelmed by all they had to do.” By 2010, it was 29% and by 2016, it surged to 62%. The startling landscape begs the question; why are more teens than ever suffering from anxiety and depression?

This spike in anxiety and depression is a truly recent phenomenon. Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. 48% more girls said they often felt left out in 2015 than in 2010, compared with 27% more boys.

Suicide rates are alarming — although the rate increased for both sexes, three times as many 12-to-14 years old girls, and twice as many boys, took their own lives in 2015 as in 2007. All of this tragic growth has taken place in less than one decade.

Why today’s teens struggle more than ever

The impact of screen time cannot be underestimated. Today’s teens do not remember a time before the Internet. A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone. Teens who spend more time than average on-screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on non-screen activities are more likely to be happy.

Social media brings a host of challenges for young people. Eighth graders who spend 10 or more hours a week on social media are 56% more likely to say they’re unhappy than those who use social media even less. Furthermore, those who spend 6 – 9 hours a week on social media are still 47% more likely to say they are unhappy than those who use social media even less.

Teens who spend three or more hours a day on electronic devices are 35% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide.

The negative effects of social media are compounded when social and peer pressure are added to the mix. Teens are particularly vulnerable to cyberbullying, isolation, perfectionism and comparison on social media. For previous generations, home was a welcome respite from the peer pressure of the school day. Even a child who was bullied at school, or who did not fit in with friends, could look forward to a “safe space” at home. Yet, the 24-hour nature of social media means that teens cannot escape

Parents who are worried about their teen’s use of devices are not alone. A Common Sense Media report indicates half of all young people feel they are addicted to their devices. Almost 60 percent of adults think their kids are addicted too, and a third of parents and teens say that they argue daily about screen time.

Today’s teens are under significantly more pressure than previous generations. Adolescence has always been a challenging time developmentally. What is new is the environment and this fast-paced, plugged-in society puts a unique pressure on teens. In spite of the constant connection through technology, teens get less face-to-face time with friends than ever. The number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40% from 2000 to 2015. Teens’ feelings of loneliness spiked in 2013 and have remained high since.

At the forefront of the crisis

Shelterwood offers real hope, real heart change and real restoration for struggling teens. We know that teens need to learn they are valuable, they are loved and they have a purpose. Teens facing anxiety and depression can find hope at Shelterwood. We are committed to bringing heart change to teenagers and restoration to families.

Is your teen struggling with anxiety and depression? Hope is found at Shelterwood. Shelterwood combines boarding school excellence with the best in therapeutic care for real transformation. Teens arrive at Shelterwood when they are at their worst, and often leave with a transformed heart and a life restored.

Are you ready for a new chapter for your teen and your family? We can help. Let today mark a fresh start. Connect with admissions today: 866.585.8939.

Hope for Teens with Anxiety Disorders

thoughtful med 300x200 Hope for Teens with Anxiety DisordersEveryone has times of feeling anxious, scared or fearful. In fact, our bodies have an innate ability to sense and respond to pending danger that helps us survive. Unfortunately, anxiety disorders can feel like a car alarm repeatedly sounding when there’s no real threat. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern for teens in North America, affecting an estimated 4% of all children, impacting their day-to-day life, friendships, school performance, physical health and their sense of well being. My colleagues and I at Shelterwood are concerned that in this modern, fast-paced, plugged-in world, anxiety disorders in teens are greatly increasing. We are seeing more teens than ever before that are constrained and made miserable by their fears when they should be feeling safe, secure, confident and happy.

Symptoms of anxiety include a rapid heartbeat, difficulty catching one’s breath, a sense of doom, sweaty palms, an upset stomach, and even nausea and vomiting. Focusing on the feelings can cause them to intensify, a vicious cycle. Anxious symptoms become a true anxiety disorder when anxiety leads to avoidance of the situation that is causing the anxiety and causes significant physical distress and disruption of daily life and functioning. An unresolved anxiety disorder can often lead to depression or substance use problems in future years.

Anxiety, however, exists on a spectrum. A certain amount of anxiety is normal and beneficial. It keeps our teens safe and conscientious; it motivates them to perform well. Teens who tend to be anxious are often model students: high achieving, diligent, analytical, sensitive, alert, creative and imaginative. Two little anxiety and a teen may take foolish risks or lack motivation to succeed. But too much anxiety and children become so paralyzed by fear that they may be unable to leave their parent’s side, leave the house, go to school, make friends or participate in normal life.

The good news is that anxiety can be very successfully managed or treated when required. Regular exercise and reliable routines in teens are often all it takes to quell mild cases. Mild and moderate anxiety is very responsive to cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a process of addressing in the unhelpful thoughts and actions that underlie anxiety. Other examples of types of therapy include stopping thoughts, talking back to negative thoughts, not believing everything you think, relaxation techniques such as breathing, mindfulness meditation, and gradual safe exposure to the things which one fears.

Teens and adults alike could benefit from learning simple techniques to turn off their body alarms that are sounding unnecessarily. In more long-term or severe cases of anxiety – such as panic disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder – treatment may include a period of anti-anxiety medication in addition to teaching the teen age-appropriate techniques.

If you’re worried about your teen’s anxiety, we would also love to visit with you and provide support.