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Being a teenager is not easy. Academic, social, and family pressures pile while trying to navigate friendships, extracurricular activities, personal style, and hormones. Teens and young adults are bombarded with messages from parents, teachers, their friends, television, and more. Unrealistic expectations from parents, friends, coaches, teachers, and themselves can lead teens to feelings of disappointment and failure that may seem permanent to them. Emotions are easily affected, and life can quickly seem overwhelming.
Hasn’t this always been the case though? The teenage years have always been socially, psychologically, and physically awkward and challenging. If so, how come the teen suicide rates amongst these young adults jumped 56% between 2007 and 2016 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)?
Several researchers correlate an increase in mental health issues (specifically depression) among teens and young adults and/or an increase in drug use to the alarming rate of suicide-related incidents in this age group.
A Mental Health Crisis, Teen Suicide Rates on the Rise
Recent depression and suicide rates among teens and young adults
According to a study published by the Journal of Abnormal Psychology in 2019, rates of depression among teens aged 14 to 17 increased by more than 60% between 2009 and 2017. The increases were just as alarming among those 12 to 13 (47%) and 18 to 21 (46%). Furthermore, when the researchers studied the data on suicide rates, suicide attempts, and others in this age group diagnosed as having “serious psychological distress” (feelings of sadness and hopelessness), they discovered the same trends: the numbers are significantly increased between 2009 and 2017.
This study along with others indicate that there’s a strong correlation between a decrease in the mental health of teens and young adults (i.e. an increase in depression), and an increase in suicide, including suicide attempts, thoughts about suicide, and death by suicide.
Is technology to blame for the rise in depression?
It’s hard to name one root cause for the angst and sadness felt by teens and young adults. This is a trying time for many reasons. With that being said, the increased use of smartphones, texting, gaming, and social media has impacted the lives of this age group in ways that contribute to depressive behaviors.
Research has shown a connection between the increased use of technology with poor mental health among young adults. Those who spend large amounts of time with technology like social media or texting spend less time engaging in behaviors that benefit mental health like face-to-face interactions and regular sleep patterns. Although the evidence linking increased technology use to a rising rate of depression is not concrete, many experts in the mental health field see the data as much more than coincidental.
In addition to technology, other factors most likely play a role in the increase in depression among young adults, including the trend of hovering parents, academic pressures, overloaded schedules, and more.
Turning to Alcohol and Drugs to Cope with Depression
As more teens and young adults deal with depression and other mental health issues, they look for outlets to cope with their feelings. Although there are healthy coping strategies available, many of which involve speaking with someone (friend, parent, teacher, counselor, doctor, mentor) to express their feelings, some teens turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to deal with their depressive feelings and self-medicate. Substances are used to make them feel more comfortable and sociable, fit in with friends, and make life more bearable.
Drugs, alcohol, and/or risk-taking behaviors never help the situation. They lead to additional problems, more depression, ruined relationships with peers, friends, and family, and new relationships with the law and school officials.
The following information regarding teens and drug use is important to keep in mind:
- 50% of all new drug users are under the age of 18
- Approximately 20% of high school seniors reported binge drinking in 2014, and nearly 40% had used alcohol in the last month
- Nearly 40% of teens who abuse prescription medication obtain the drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinet
- 1 in 5 teens has abused prescription medication
Many of the same factors that lead to drug and alcohol abuse among teens are the same factors that lead to teen suicide. Addressing depressive behavior before the use of drugs or alcohol is ideal. If drugs and/or alcohol are already involved, seek help immediately before this destructive path continues with an inpatient alcohol rehab program.
Substance Abuse and Teen Suicide Rates
The University of Southern Illinois found that students who drink or use drugs are significantly more likely to have suicidal tendencies than those who remained sober. Students lacked inhibition and were more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior and poor decision making. Many drugs are depressants, including alcohol, and can cause a slowed heart rate, depressed breathing, impaired motor skills, and mental confusion. Emergency room visits for teens who attempted suicide are likely to involve prescription drug abuse.
Connecting the Dots: Mental Health, Technology, Drug Use, and Suicide Among Teens
There is no one study that pulls all of these factors into a database to show causation among them. However, when reviewing multiple studies, as well as anecdotal information from professionals who work with teens and young adults on a daily basis, it appears that there’s more than just coincidence that links each of these factors to one another.
As the use of technology has increased among young adults, so has the number of those who suffer from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Those who suffer from depression often turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping medicine, and the increase in prescription medications available in medicine cabinets makes access to drugs easier. Teens who use drugs and alcohol are more likely to have suicidal tendencies, and there’s been an increase in suicide attempts among this age group as well.
The most important factor is to communicate and seek help. If you or someone you know is feeling down, bring it up. You’re not alone. Talk to someone you trust. These feelings are not permanent, and there is help available. If you’re a parent or guardian and you’re not sure how to approach your teen, seek advice from a professional like your doctor, school counselor, or an addiction treatment & rehab facility. Guardians and teens: never be afraid to ask.
If you need help, you can contact Beach House and speak with an addiction expert confidentially 24/7.