Persistent sadness and hopelessness are criteria for and predictors of clinical depression, though by themselves they are insufficient for a diagnosis of depression., Youth who are depressed are at a higher risk for poor health outcomes as adults.
In addition, depression in early adolescence is linked with increased risks for negative effects on growth and development, school performance, and peer/family relationships in later adolescence. Depressed youth are also much more likely to use drugs or alcohol, drop out of school, or engage in promiscuous sex than a young person who is not depressed. Feelings of sadness or loneliness not only affect teens but those around them, often causing problems in relationships with peers and family members.
Although they likely underestimate the actual prevalence of depression, the available data indicate that 12.5 percent of youth ages 12-17 in 2015 had a major depressive episode during the past year. Only a minority (39 percent) of these youth received treatment.
The prevalence of “sad or hopeless” feelings as defined here remained steady between 1999 and 2007, staying between 28 and 29 percent. However, between 2007 and 2009, the proportion decreased, from 29 to 26 percent. Most of this decline reflected a lower prevalence of “sad or hopeless” feelings among males. Then, between 2009 and 2015, the prevalence of these feelings increased, from 26 to 30 percent. This rise was driven mainly by an increase among female teens. (Figure 1)
Girls are more likely than boys to report feeling sad or hopeless. In 2015, two-fifths of girls reported having been sad or hopeless, while only one-fifth of boys reported having felt the same way. (Figure 1) Rates were highest among Hispanic female students (47 percent). (Figure 2)
Hispanic youth are more likely than white or black youth to report feeling sad or hopeless for extended periods of time (35, versus 29 and 25 percent, respectively, in 2015). (Figure 2)
In 2015, twelfth-grade boys were significantly more likely to report having felt sad or hopeless than ninth-grade boys (24 versus 17 percent), while ninth-grade girls were more likely to report having felt sad or hopeless than twelfth-grade girls (42 versus 36 percent). There were no significant difference by grade level overall. (Appendix 1)
2015 estimates of feeling sad or hopeless among high school students (Grades 9-12) are available for select states and cities from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) (Table 24).
2015 state-level data on the prevalence of major depressive episodes among youth ages 12-17 are available from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (Table 26).
International estimates (1997-1998) are available from the World Health Organization. (See Figure 3.1)
Through its Healthy People 2020 initiative, the Federal government has set a goal to reduce the proportion of adolescents who experience a major depressive episode from 8.3 percent in 2008 to 7.5 percent in 2020. They have also set a goal to increase depression screening by primary care providers for adolescents from 2.1 percent of office visits in 2005-07 to 2.3 percent in 2020.
More information is available here. (MHMD 4.1 and 11.2)
Additionally, Report of the Surgeon General’s Conference on Children’s Mental Health: A National Action Agenda lays out a number of national goals related to improving children’s mental health. One goal, for example, is to improve the assessment and recognition of mental health needs in children.
Additional information is available here.
See Child Trends’ LINKS database (“Lifecourse Interventions to Nurture Kids Successfully”), for reviews of many rigorously evaluated programs, including the following which have been shown to be effective:
And, Zaff, JF, Calkins J, Bridges, LJ, and Margie, NG (2002).
Promoting positive mental and emotional health in teens: Some lessons from research. Child Trends Research Brief.
Survey participants were asked to respond to the following question:
“During the past 12 months, did you ever feel so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that you stopped doing some usual activities?”
Students from Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota were not included in the survey in any year. Additionally, students from Colorado, Iowa, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin were not included in the 2015 survey.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). 1991-2015 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. Available at http://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/.
Youth Risk Behavior Survey
1 Estimates do not include youth who dropped out of school and therefore may not reflect total national values. Students from Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota were not included in the survey in any year. California was included in the 2015 survey only. Additionally, students from Colorado, Iowa, Indiana, and Pennsylvania were not included in the 2013 survey, and students from Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin were excluded from the 2015 survey.
2Felt so sad almost every day for two or more weeks in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities, in the past year.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). 1991-2015 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. Available at http://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/.
Harter, S. & Whitesell, N. R. (1996). Multiple pathways to self-reported depression and psychological adjustment among adolescents. Development and Psychopathology, 8: 761-777;
Joiner, T. E. & Wagner, K. D. (1995). Attribution style and depression in children and adolescents: A meta-analytic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 15: 777-798;
Young, M. A., Fogg, L .F., Scheftner, W., Fawcett, J., Akiskal, H., & Maser, J. (1996). Stable trait components of hopelessness: Baseline and sensitivity to depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105: 155-165.
Surgeon General. (1999). Children and mental health. Chapter 3 in Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Washington, D.C.: U.S.GPO. Available at:http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/mentalhealth/chapter3/sec1.html
Keenan-Miller, D., Hammen, C. L., and Brennan, P. A. (2007). Health outcomes related to early adolescent depression. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41, 256-262.
Brent, D.A., Birmaher, B. (2002). Adolescent depression. The New England Journal of Medicine, 347(9): 667-671.
Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016). Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Mental health detailed tables. Rockville, MD: Author. Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015.pdf
Hispanics may be any race. Estimates for whites and blacks in this report do not include Hispanics.
Child Trends Databank. (2016). Adolescents who felt sad or hopeless. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=adolescents-who-felt-sad-or-hopeless
Last updated: September 2016