by Comprehensive Staff

04/04/2016 6:54 pm

The Numbers: Teen Depression and Drug Use

WA teen past year MDE

 Each year, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) compiles a report on a variety of behavioral health indicators based off responses gathered from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health. This report, called the Behavioral Health Barometer, offers a look at both the national data and the data for each state. It’s a useful tool for looking at overall trends and assessing on what issues we need to focus our efforts.

In the 2015 Barometer, over 64,000 Washington teenagers aged 12-17 reported having experienced a major depressive episode in the previous year—more than 12% of teens in this age group. Of those teens, less than half (43.6%) received treatment for their depression. Why does this matter? Because depression, especially untreated, is a major risk factor for suicide among all age groups. And with rates of suicide increasing steadily since the mid-2000s, addressing and treating depression is more important than ever.

Another known risk factor for suicide is the use or abuse of alcohol or other drugs, both legal and illegal. The 2015 Barometer found that 11.4% of WA teens aged 12-17 reported using illicit drugs in the month prior to being surveyed. This works out to approximately 60,000 teens who admit to being regular users of illegal drugs. Significantly, this number is over 2 percentage points higher than the national average of 9.1%. Binge alcohol use, or consuming 5 or more drinks on the same occasion, is also a common experience among teens. Over 14% of WA teens reported binge alcohol use within the month prior to being surveyed, which is equal to approximately 125,000 individuals. This number is very similar to the national average for teen binge alcohol use.

While these may seem like high numbers to some people, it’s important to keep perspective. Nearly 86% of Washington teens do not consume alcohol in binges, over 88% of teens are not current users of illicit drugs, and 88% have not experienced a major depressive episode. The vast majority of teens make it through adolescence safely and healthfully, without anything more serious than the growing pains of being a teenager in the 21st century. But for the portion of teenagers who do experience significant challenges, it’s important that the adults in their lives recognize and respond to these challenges in a helpful, supportive way. The coming blogs and social media posts for the next two weeks will focus on what people can do to be encouraging and supportive when the teens in their lives may be struggling.