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SAMHSA News - May/June 2008, Volume 16, Number 3

Depression: For Teens, Not Just Growing Pains

With mood swings, feelings of isolation, the stress of school, and the struggle to carve out an identity, teenagers and their families may ignore signs of depression. “Growing pains” are an accepted part of the teenage years.

However, adolescents may experience feelings that go beyond moodiness. Many teens between the ages of 12 and 17 may suffer from a major depressive episode (MDE), which can prevent them from participating in normal activities.

According to a recent report based on combined data from SAMHSA’s 2004 to 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), MDEs are more frequent than previously thought.

The report, Major Depressive Episode among Youths Aged 12 to 17 in the United States: 2004 to 2006, indicates that an annual average of 8.5 percent of youth age 12 to 17 (an estimated 2.1 million teens) experienced at least one MDE in the past year. Female adolescents were more than twice as likely to be affected as male adolescents (12.7 versus 4.6 percent).

Number of Days Depression Hinders Normal Activity

Number of Days Depression Hinders Normal Activity
Severity Number of Days
Mild 11.7
Moderate 14.1
Severe 25.8
Very Severe 58.4

Source: SAMHSA Office of Applied Studies. Major Depressive Episode among Youths Aged 12 to 17 in the United States: 2004 to 2006. Figure 3. Mean Number of Days Unable to Carry Out Normal Activities Due to Depression among Youths Aged 12 to 17 Who Experienced a Past Year Major Depressive Episode (MDE), by Overall Severity of Role Impairment: 2004-2006. May 13, 2008.

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The Numbers

Combined 2004 to 2006 data show that rates of past-year MDE among youth age 12 to 17 generally increased with age.

Among youth age 12 to 17 with a past-year MDE, 48.3 percent reported severe impairment and 21.0 percent reported very severe impairment in at least one of four role domains (i.e., home, school/work, family relationships, or social life). Adolescents affected by past-year MDE reported being unable to carry out normal activities for a range of 11.7 days to 58.4 days, depending on the severity of the impairment. (See chart.)

Many survey respondents had experienced MDE before. Of those who reported at least one MDE over the past year, 91.7 percent reported more than one period in their lifetime during which they were feeling sadness or discouragement accompanied by other problems for 2 weeks or longer.

To download the free report, visit SAMHSA’s Web site at

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