Depression: Deadly Growing Threat to Utah's Youth

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 Utah) - January is known for being the peak month for folks suffering from depression symptoms and now there's a new study that shows the number of teens who suffer from depression is growing.
When is comes to teenage depression, Utah has some of the highest numbers in the nation and many are not receiving treatment. Teens are not receiving the help that they need because they're not speaking out.
Health officials note that depression among teen girls is rising at a faster rate than with teen boys.
"The girls within their own little groups are the ones saying I feel hopeless or I don't understand why i'm even continuing in this life," said Sharlene Watson, Nurse Practitioner, Rising Health Specialty. "But the girls don't dare pass that on because they have such a comradery of not telling." 
Researchers say one possible explanation for this is the influence of cyberbullying through social media and texting. 
Doctor Kate Eshleman, PsyD, Cleveland Clinic Children's, said that social media can encourage one type of bullying that is unique to girls, known as 'relational aggression.' Relational aggression includes gossiping and spreading rumors or attempting to damage relationships by manipulation or exclusion.
According to Eshleman, it's important for parents to keep tabs on their teen's social media use, as people are more likely to say unkind things or spread rumors if they can do so anonymously, and social media allows for that.
"Often times, boys kind of will duke it out and then move on, but in females it tends to be more of trying to damage relationships and what we're seeing now is that there's more opportunity for that via social media," explained Eshleman.
Although the study notes teenage depression is higher in girls than boys, Watson notes that it's the boys that are taking their own lives in higher numbers.
"The males are completing suicide. They have a higher rate of attempt. they're the ones that will most likely say to somebody that they feel hopeless, and they're willing to say that out loud. So why we're missing them is a phenomenon right now that we don't understand," said Watson.
It is important that parents are able to identify the warning signs of teen depression. Some of the signs are included, but are not limited too; changes in sleep - like sleeping more, or less than usual, or changes in mood, such as irritability, as well as changes in grades or decreased participation in extracurricular activities.
Though these could be signs of depression worth bringing up with your child's doctor, Watson tells ABC4 Utah, if you talk to your kids during family dinner, it opens up the table for them to talk about any changes they're experiencing. 
"I think a teenager at home is able to say to mom 'they weren't very nice to me' and a mom is able to repeat back 'well let me tell you what's normal at your age.' These kids are not understanding what's normal and what isn't and what you can ignore," Watson said.
Watson told Good4Utah's Brittany Johnson that another area of focus to help teenagers with depression needs to be in the schools. 
"In the school there should be programs about suicide prevention. Remember that there is girls who will not tell. I'm sure there's boys who will not tell. But if they're given permission and even power to tell that they're friend, a dear friend of theirs that this world would be terrible without, is considering that, these kids need that empowerment, and the schools should have programs to do that. "
"I think if everyone knew these statistics they'd be outraged and be at the school doors saying is my child safe here? Are you telling these children that they are safe and that bullying is not allowed?"
According to Watson, diets, especially in children, is 70 percent of the problem.
"If these children are eating breads, they're eating boxed foods, fast foods, they truly are malnutrition and they are going to feel depressed." 
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression, click here.
To speak to someone immediately, call the Salt Lake County UNI Crisis Line at 801-587-3000.

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