Survey finds growing number of untreated, depressed teens in US

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Depression increased among adolescents between 2005 and 2014, but the proportion of depressed teenagers who received mental health counseling or treatment did not significantly change during that period, according to a new report in the journal Pediatrics.

The prevalence of depression among teens ages 12 to 17 increased 37 percent between 2005 and 2014, the report finds. That translates into an increase of more than a half million teens.

The increase in depression among teen girls was especially pronounced, the authors find. Depression among girls increased from 13.1 percent in 2005 to 17.3 percent in 2014; among teen boys, it increased from 4.5 percent in 2005 to 5.7 percent in 2014.

The report is based on data from the 2005 to 2014 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, which includes interviews with more than 176,000 teenagers.

While the proportion of teenagers who received mental health care from any type of provider held steady between 2005 and 2014, the survey finds that a larger proportion of teens reported receiving care from specialty providers in private mental health care settings and receiving prescription medication for their depression. This could be related to enhanced insurance coverage of mental health, the authors posit.

The authors conclude there's a growing number of untreated depressed teenagers and call for "renewed outreach efforts, especially in school and college health and counseling services and pediatric practices where many of the untreated adolescents and young adults with depression may be detected and managed."

They suggest teen girls may have been exposed to more risk factors for depression in recent years, including increased cyberbullying. They note that their results align with national data finding a greater increase in suicide among teen girls and young women compared with young men.

In a commentary accompanying the article, Dr. Anne Glowinski and Giuseppe D'Amelio, both of Washington University in St. Louis, write that depression is a deadly threat to the country's teenagers. 

They underscore the importance of routinely screening teenagers and young adults for depression, but add, "there will never be enough qualified mental health specialists to take care of the 2.8 million or more adolescents per year, who, if screened and identified, will need treatment and monitoring for depression."