Annual Pa. survey finds rising rate of depression in youth

    (File Image

    (File Image

    Each year, Pennsylvania asks teens and adolescents across the state about their habits and feelings, and the latest survey suggests that depression is a concern across the commonwealth.

    “We saw 38.3 percent of our students [statewide] reporting feeling sad or depressed most days,” said Geoffrey Kolchin, a program manager with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, who helps coordinate the Pennsylvania Youth Survey.

    “These numbers have gone up each administration [of the survey] since 2011 when we first began asking those questions,” Kolchin said.

    Depression is one warning sign behavioral health professionals look for when they are trying to protect teens from destructive or unhealthy behavior.

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    In Delaware County, the percentage of young people who reported feeling sad or depressed was 44 percent — higher than the state average.

    District Attorney Jack Whelan, who leads the county’s heroin task force, said guidance counselors and school mental health professionals will have to explore that statistic.

    “What we see when individuals — especially middle schoolers or high-schoolers are sad or depressed — then they are turning to other types of substances to make them feel better,” Whelan said. “It could be alcohol or marijuana, or it could be more serious drugs such as opioid medication.”

    “Depression is the No. 1 risk factor for suicide by teens, a risk amplified in teens self-medicating with  [alcohol, tobacco and other drugs],” according the summary report for PAYS.

    Results from the survey are used to direct funding and shape educational programs.

    Kolchin said providing young people more opportunities for positive social interaction at school and in the community can be a way to protect them from risk factors.

    In 2015 — for the first time — Pennsylvania asked sixth-, eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders about electronic cigarette use.

    “Our students reported much higher use than their national peers,” said Kolchin, adding that 22.4 percent of 10th-graders reported using e-cigarettes in the past year.” 

    A national survey found 14 percent use among the same age group.

    Whelan said he’s glad to see a drop traditional smoking, but he thinks too often teens minimize the harm of vaping.

    “Part of our uphill battle is educating them in learning the ill effects of some of their practices,” he said.

    Whelan said he’s an advocate for the Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education program, which school administrators across Delaware County are using.

    Listen to a special edition of WHYY’s “Voices in the Family,” “Back To School, Back to Stress.”

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