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The Value of Depression Centers for Teens

Depression Treatment for Teens Can Save Lives

Parents of teens have to play detective all the time.

Most of us understand why. At a certain point – which is different for each individual – teens change the way they communicate with their parents. It doesn’t happen with every teen, and the communication rarely stops completely. When they need clean clothes, food, help with homework, the car keys, or permission to go over to a friend’s house or go out to the movies, most teens communicate with perfect precision and accuracy.

When parents ask questions about their mental and emotional states, though, things change.  The free information – along with the precision and accuracy – dries up. Most teens default to answers like these:

I’m fine.”

“Not bad.”


“Doin’ good.”


They’ll say those things whether they look obviously sad or look joyful and happy. That leaves parents wondering: how is my kid actually doing?

Parents need to know how their teenagers are doing because adolescence is when many mental health and emotional disorders first appear. Particularly depression. They have to play detective because untreated mental health disorders in adolescents can lead to lifelong problems. A mental health disorder such as depression, for instance, can have a significant negative impact on physical health, academic performance, social development, and adult employment.

Here’s a fact parents need to know:

An untreated major depressive disorder can lead to suicidal ideation,

suicide attempts, and death.

We’re not exaggerating. Teen depression is a serious issue. Parents who are worried their teen may have developed a depressive disorder play detective because they know they need to find treatment for their teenager.

Teen Depression Centers in California: The Bay Area

Parents looking for depression treatment for adolescents in the San Francisco Bay Area of California may have heard about a recent report with details about the state of teen mental health in their state. They may also know about the alarming clusters of teen suicide that occurred in Palo Alto several years ago, and fear that the cumulative stress of the coronavirus pandemic may have increased the risk of depression and other mental health disorders in their teenage children.
Their worries are well-founded. Evidence shows the pandemic had a negative effect on the mental health of teens nationwide. California-specific studies show that teens in California had an especially tough year in 2020.

We’ll get to the specific data on California and the Bay Area in a moment.

First, we’ll give you a big-picture idea of how teens across the country are doing right now, mental health-wise.

Nationwide Mental Health Statistics for Teens

Here’s the data from the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) on rates of depression and mental health treatment for adolescents:

  • 3.8 million adolescents were diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDE)
  • 1.6 million adolescents received treatment for MDE
  • 601,000 adolescents received treatment for a MDE with severe impairment

Now let’s consider a more recent data set. This data from 2020 will help clarify what’s going on with teens in California right now.

A study called “Kids Under Pressure: A Look at Student Well-Being and Engagement During the Pandemic” published this year by Stanford University, in collaboration NBC news, offers a valuable perspective on the mental health of teens in the U.S. What makes this study unique is that it answers questions we’ve all had since last March:

What effect will the pandemic have on the mental health of our teenagers?

This study answers that question in a way that most other studies have not been able to.


Every year, the non-profit group Challenge Success (CS) surveys thousands of students nationwide to collect data on various topics. The survey stands out because of the topics it covers. While most national surveys concentrate on things like academic success (grades) and risky behavior (alcohol/drug/tobacco use), this survey focuses on different topics. The CS survey addresses mental health, emotional health, and overall wellbeing. And this year, the Challenge Success survey gives us useful information regarding the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the mental and emotional wellbeing of our teens for three reasons:

  1. Researchers compared answers about “student well-being and engagement” from the 2019 survey to answers to the same questions from the 2020 survey.
  2. Researchers modified the 2020 survey to include questions about specific issues related to remote learning and the pandemic.
  3. The number of students surveyed was large enough to make population-level, statistical generalizations: it includes data from 75,000 students attending 86 high schools around the country.

Let’s take a look at what they found.

Challenge Success 2020: High School Students

  • 56% of students reported increased levels of stress, compared to their pre-pandemic stress levels in 2019.
  • 65% of students said they were not very confident in their ability to handle stress productively.
  • 47.1% of students reported a decrease in the strength of their relationships with their friends, compared to 2019.
  • 32% of students reported a decrease in their sense of belonging in school, compared to 2019.
  • 31.5% of students reported increased worry/concern over their mental health, compared to their pre-pandemic levels of worry/concern in 2019.

On a national level, those statistics paint a picture we need to watch closely. Every metric for which students reported an increase is also a risk factor for depression. Stress levels, the ability to cope with stress, the strength of peer relationships, and sense of belonging. Add to that the fact that close to a third of students nationwide are more worried about their mental health now than before the pandemic, and we have a situation that does not inspire confidence.

Teens across the country are under stress, miss their friends, feel disconnected, and are worried about it.

Now it’s time for the data on teen mental health for California.

Mental Health Statistics for Teens in California

A report published this year by UCLA and the California Health Interview Survey shows that almost half of the teenagers in California experienced mental health challenges in 2019 – before the pandemic arrived and dramatically increased risk factors for mental health disorders.

Here’s the data:

  • 45.4% of teens reported psychological distress
  • 30% of 11th graders reported feeling sad or hopeless in the past year
  • 27% of 9th graders reported sadness and hopelessness in the past year.

The survey included data from close to 1.5 million teens in California – which means we need to take it seriously. The message is clear: teens in California are in danger of developing mental health issues this year. Combined with the nationwide data on mental health and major depressive disorder among teens presented above, we can help parents eliminate the detective work. The statistics say they need help. 45.4 percent of teens in California works out to around 900,000 kids in serious psychological distress, which means they’re at risk of developing a mental health disorder such as depression.

That’s why what we’re going to talk about next is important: how depression treatment can help teens.

Depression Treatment For Teens: How it Helps

The primary benefit of depression treatment for teens is that they learn useful skills for managing their symptoms. Professional mental health treatment gives them the tools they need to process their emotions, manage their symptoms, and live a life that’s not ruled by uncomfortable, painful emotions.

At a depression treatment center, a teenager can learn to:

  1. Identify, talk about, and process their emotions.
  2. Validate their experiences and emotions
  3. Understand the relationship between their emotions and their thoughts.
  4. Realize how thoughts affect their behavior.
  5. Use their knowledge about the interplay of emotion, thought, and behavior to productively process the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that interfere with their lives.
  6. Believe in themselves and access the inner resilience it takes to manage their depressive symptoms.

The best depression treatment for teens empowers them to be themselves. It allows them to learn, grow, enjoy their lives, and enables them to navigate the challenging transition from the teen years to adulthood.

Depression Treatment For Teens: The Core Elements of Healing and Recovery

The most effective treatment for teenage depression – according to the latest research – follows the integrated treatment model. The integrated model includes a combination of individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, medication (as needed), lifestyle modifications, and complementary supports. Complementary supports include things like mindfulness, expressive therapies, experiential activities, and community support.

Depression centers for teens, including those across California and in the Bay Area, offer integrated treatment at various levels of care. Level of care refers to the amount, intensity, and degree of immersion the treatment entails. The most common levels of care include:

Outpatient Programs

The outpatient level is the standard first level of treatment for a teen who needs depression treatment, but whose depression does not disrupt their ability to participate in school or typical daily activities.

Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)

In a teen IOP program for depression, teenagers participate in treatment for about three hours per day, five days a week. This level of depression treatment is appropriate for teens whose symptoms are significant enough to be disruptive, but not so significant that they impair their ability to go to school or live at home.

Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP)

In a teen PHP program for depression, teenagers participate treatment for about five to six hours per day, five days a week. This level of depression treatment is appropriate for teens whose symptoms are significant enough to disrupt day-to-day living and impair their ability to go to school. Most teens in PHP programs continue to live at home while receiving treatment.

Residential Treatment Programs (RTC)

This level of treatment is appropriate for teens with a depressive disorder so severe they need 24/7 support and monitoring. Teens in residential treatment for depression do not live at home. They need an immersive level of treatment and support in order to manage their depression.

Teenagers who receive evidence-based, integrated treatment for depression learn that they’re more than their diagnosis. They understand they can live a full and productive life. They learn that with treatment and support, they can live a life they create, rather than a life defined by their mental health condition.

To learn about how to find the best treatment center for your teenager with depression, please read our article Mental Health Treatment for Adolescents: An Overview or read and download this helpful guide: How to Find the Best Treatment Programs for Teens.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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