Many Depressed Teens Go Untreated

According to a recent report from the 2007 SAMHSA National Survey on Drug Use and Health, during the past year, 8% of teenagers ages 12-17 experienced at least one episode of major depression defined as:
...a period of 2 weeks or longer in which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure and at least four other symptoms that reflect a change in functioning, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, and self-image.
Even though 70% of the depressed teens reported severe impairment in daily functioning (chores at home, school or work, close relationships with family, or social life), only 39% received any mental health treatment!

Why did less than half of the depressed teens get help? The study points to at least one cause--lack of health insurance. Only 17% of uninsured, depressed teenagers obtained treatment. However, this does not explain why nearly 60% of teens covered by health insurance weren't treated.

The primary reason depressed teens don't get help is that neither they nor their parents recognize the source of their problems. It's easy to ascribe moodiness, irritability, lack of energy, and poor concentration to the stress and sleep deprivation experienced by today's over-scheduled teens.

In addition, the stigma of mental illness affects teenager's willingness to ask for help. Many suffer in silence and hide their pain from parents and friends. In an excerpt from Day for Night: Recognizing Teenage Depression, teens who have dealt with major depression describe the symptoms they had:

It's important for both teens and parents to become better informed about the symptoms and treatments for depression. The following publications from the National Institute on Mental Health are a good place to start. Because they are not currently available from NIMH, I've linked to pdf's on my website's Resources page:

Let's Talk About Depression

What to Do When A Friend is Depressed


  1. Thank you for the post. I'm learning about teen depression in a class right now and this is helpful.
    If I become depressed, I do think it will be pretty difficult to seek for help from the stigma. Also, I think it's hard to admit that the depression is actually happening to myself. However, I can't imagine more about what depression is like because it's not close to me right now and because of that I might not be able to recognize the symptoms early.

  2. I'm glad you find it helpful. It is difficult to imagine what clinical depression feels like for those who haven't experienced it. Most people have temporary feelings of sadness, being down or discouraged that we call depression but this is very different from clinical depression. This also makes seeking treatment difficult because the response from others is often "you don't need therapy, everyone feels that way sometimes." One way to recognize early signs of major depression (and dysthymia - a milder, chronic form of depression)is poor self-esteem, feeling hopeless and powerless to change your circumstances or about the future, expecting only bad things to happen to you, and either wanting to be dead or not caring about being alive. Seeking therapy for poor self-esteem and feeling hopeless is one way to intervene early that is less stigmatizing.


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