Healthy Living: Help for kids & teens struggling with depression and anxiety

Growing up can come with lots of struggles.  This is not new.  However, kids and teens today face new challenges that didn't exist decades ago.  The impact of social media on their lives has added extra pressure on our youth to compete, fit in and navigate their way.

Anxiety and depression are fairly common.  In fact, health experts estimate that between six and twenty percent of kids and teens are suffering from one or the other.  Dr. Brandi Shah, who specializes in family and adolescent medicine at Pacific Medical Centers says rates of depression and anxiety in young people has increased in the last decade.

"I think overall we're seeing an increase based on the last decade.  But it's not necessarily presenting in the way it has always in the past," says Dr. Shah.  "In some populations we're seeing a lot more self harm as a way these illnesses are coming to manifest themselves."  Dr. Shah says it's important to remember that  neuroscience shows us that the brain is still developing well into a person's early 20's and beyond.  That means the part of a young adults brain responsible for emotional processing is still developing and for that reason, kids and teens may not have the access to the seasoned coping mechanisms to deal with symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Dr. Shah says parents need to be looking for signs the young person in their life may be struggling.  She says those signs may include...

-Decreased motivation in school & activities

-Generally uninterested in friends, family or things they typically enjoy


-More time in their room, sleeping, spending time in the dark or listening to sad music

-Changes in diet or sleep

-Putting themselves down

-Gesturing towards self-harm or suicide.

Dr. Shah says if a parent or caregiver notices one or any of those signs, or just feels like something may be off with their teen... reach out.  Shah adds, "What we know from kind of all the research for adolescents is that having a caring, trusted adult in the life of a young person is one of the strongest protective factors against mental illness, against a number of risk factors and poor outcomes."

Keep in mind, family history can be a risk factor for depression.  Dr. Shah says knowing that can helps to figure out (in some cases) what medications to use and can help come up with a strategy to deal with the depression.  Other triggers can include social media, academic pressure and trying to live up to a certain persona teens see in the media.

Since depression and anxiety are so common and many parents are unsure how to handle the situation, Dr. Shah and her colleagues at Pacific Medical Centers are offering a parent forum, Saturday, October 28th at the Canyon Park Location in Bothell.  It's called "Out of the Silence- A Forum on Adolescent Depression & Anxiety."  It's open to the public and will walk parents/guardians through the risk factors, warning signs and support systems to deal with adolescent depression, anxiety and mental health well-being.

For details on the forum, click here.