Center for Injury Research and Prevention

Could Depression in Teens Drive Intentional Injury?

September 13, 2018

According to the 2017 Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS), a biennial survey sponsored by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), one third of students in grades 6 through 12 report symptoms of depression. Why is PCCD so interested in the mental health of teenagers? What many people may not realize is that mental illness, if left untreated, can be associated with serious social problems for youth. In fact, 50 to 70 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system meet the criteria for a mental health disorder.

Depression can arise from a combination of factors like stress, physical illness, family history, hormonal changes, trauma, community violence, drug/alcohol abuse and poverty and can affect the way a person feels, acts, and thinks. Individuals with depression may negatively interpret the actions of others or the world around them.  

In addition to “typical” signs like feeling down or overwhelming sadness, depression can also cause persistent irritability or anger. This can have both internal and interpersonal consequences and can affect different groups in different ways. Recent studies suggest that depression is experienced differently across racial/ethnic groups.

Depression As Risk Factor for Injury

Since depression affects interpersonal relationships with family members, friends, and significant others, it should be seen as a risk factor for self-injury and injury to others. Depression is the most predictive risk factor for suicide by teens. Each year in the US, approximately 157,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive emergency medical care for self-inflicted injuries. Prevention is key.

Tips to Prevent Depression in Youths

  • Promote self-care. Taking care of the body is a simple, yet effective tool for protecting against depression. A lot of the warning signs of depression take on physical symptoms.
  • Keep a regular schedule. Maintaining a regular schedule, including regular meal times, if possible, ensures that the body has the building blocks to continue creating chemical messengers in the brain. Keeping up with regular daily activities is also a part of behavior activation, a key component to treatment for depression.
  • Get enough sleep. Teens are supposed to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night. Too little sleep contributes to mood and behavior challenges. Although sometimes challenging to accomplish given early middle school or high school start times, teens should be encouraged to slowly move their sleep routines toward an earlier bedtime, a half-hour at a time.
  • Encourage exercise. Youths need to get at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise daily to keep the body active and to release endorphins that can mitigate the effects of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone.
  • Meditate. Even for a short time each day, meditation can relieve anxiety and stress, which are closely related to depression. Many practitioners recommend using an easy to use mobile phone application, such as Headspace, to help kids remember and apply this each day in their lives..
  • Provide social support. Supportive adults can help foster resiliency in youth, and pro-social programs can protect against isolation.