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2017 Children's Mental Health Report

Anxiety and Depression in Adolescence

The fact that we can recall adolescence better than other periods and that this is a time of change in many brain regions are two pieces of evidence that the brain is likely to be especially plastic at this time. Another indication comes from statistics on the average age of onset of serious psychological disorders. The adolescent brain is extraordinarily sensitive to stress.
Laurence Steinberg

Researchers believe that brain changes in adolescence increase a teen’s vulnerability to depression and anxiety, and play a role in the severe gender disparity in these disorders.

  • Depression and bipolar disorder affect 14.3% of youth age 13-17¹
    • 11.7% of the adolescents met criteria for major depressive disorder or dysthymia, a less severe but more persistent depressive disorder
      • There is a nearly two-fold increase in mood disorders from 13 to 18, from 8.4% to 15.
  • Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders of childhood and adolescence. Different kinds of anxiety affect young people at different times in development. Phobias and separation anxiety affect primarily young children; social anxiety develops later, as peer relationships become more important.²
  • Nearly one in three adolescents (31.9%) will meet criteria for an anxiety disorder by the age of 18.
  • Specific phobia: 19.3%
  • Social phobia: 9.1%
  • Separation anxiety: 7.6%
  • PTSD: 5.0 %
  • Panic disorder: 2.3%
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: 2.2%

Gender differences in depression and anxiety

  • Anxiety and panic disorders change from equal female–male prevalence to a 2:1 female–male prevalence after puberty.³
  • Adolescent girls are more than twice as likely to experience depression than boys, 15.9% vs 7.7%. There could be a brain reason for this: the brain regions thought to be affected in depression have high concentrations of sex hormone receptors, which could explain why there is a gender disparity in depression.
  • All anxiety disorder subtypes were more frequent in girls than boys
    • Social phobia: 11.2% females, 7.0% males
    • Specific phobia: 22.1% females, 16.7% males
    • Panic disorder: 2.6% females, 2.0% males
    • PTSD: 8.0% females, 2.3% males
    • Separation anxiety: 9.0% females, 6.3% males

Anxiety and depression are on the rise.

  • Social, political, and environmental causes are likely implicated in an increase in the number of teens each year who have had a depressive episode, up 37 percent between 2005 and 2014.
  • High school students today have more anxiety symptoms and are twice as likely to see a mental health professional as teens in the 1980s.

[1] Merikangas, K., Hep, J., Burstein, M., Swanson, S., Avenevoli, S., Cui, L., Benejet, C.,… Swendsen, J. (2010). Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication—Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 49(10), 980-989. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2010.05.017.

[2] Merikangas (2010).

[3] Paus (2008).

[4] Merikangas (2010).

[5] Mojtabai, R., Olfson, M., & Han, B. (2016). National Trends in the Prevalence and Treatment of Depression in Adolescents and Young Adults. PEDIATRICS, 138(6), e20161878-e20161878. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1878

[6] Twenge, J.M., (2015). Time Period and Birth Cohort Differences in Depressive Symptoms in the U.S., 1982–2013. Social Indicators Research 121(2), 437.