Jeff Huston spends his days at Thrive Behavioral Health in Eugene helping kids and families be healthy. As a licensed professional counselor, he’s seeing more kids struggling with depression.

“There’s a lot of pressure on kids these days, particularly those who are overscheduled. Plus, you have electronics that are part of the daily routine for most teens, and because of that, they’re constantly stimulated,” Jeff says. “That can lead to both depression and anxiety for some kids who really don’t feel they have support systems or outlets for that stress.”

Depression by the numbers
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that between 2009 and 2017, rates of depression rose by more than 60% among adolescents ages 14-17, and 47% among those ages 12-13. The number of children and teenagers who were seen in emergency rooms with suicidal thoughts or having attempted suicide doubled between 2007 and 2015.

At Eugene Pediatric Associates, Dr. Pilar Bradshaw says approximately 40% of children 11 years and older in her practice have screened positive for depression. Equally as concerning is the shortage of professional resources available to help families in Lane County and nationally.

“The idea that all the children who are depressed in our community will have access to a therapist is not true because it’s just not possible. There are not enough mental health specialists to meet this huge tidal wave,” she says.

With a lack of mental health resources, it’s more important than ever for parents to dial in to their kids’ moods and behaviors—to look for signs that they may be struggling and create opportunities to talk with them about how they’re feeling, says Dr. Bradshaw.

“Try to take advantage of casual opportunities to start a conversation—a lot of teens will open up if it seems like a more relaxed environment. For example, when you’re making dinner, when you’re doing the dishes or when you’re driving,” she says.

“Some parents worry that if they bring up questions of depression or suicide it’s going to prompt their kids to have negative thoughts. It’s the other way around,” Jeff says. “If we’re not asking—if we’re not inviting those discussions—that’s when kids can really struggle.”

How do I know if my child is depressed?
Recognizing the signs of depression in kids is the first key to helping them. Look for:

  • A change in mood: your teen or tween is feeling emotional, irritable or angry.
  • Changes in patterns of behavior: they’re sleeping more, sleeping less, there’s a sudden a change in their friend group or in your child’s appearance.
  • Your child is withdrawn, spending less time with the family and more time in their room isolated from others, and not enjoying things that used to make them happy.
  • Trouble focusing or making choices; their grades suddenly drop.

“Recognize that you, as a parent, are sort of an unpaid therapist, and so you may need to have some resources as well,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “That’s a great thing to talk with your child’s pediatrician about.”

Get more information on adolescent depression here.