Letter to the editor: The kids are not alright

We need to address adolescent depression and mental health issues in Minnesota and beyond.

Letter to the Editor

Yesterday my younger sister, an 11th grader, came home from school and said that her classmate had tried to commit suicide. Nobody knew the reason, nobody knew she was not alright.

Meanwhile, about 25 percent of high school students in Hennepin county report signs of depression. Another number is even scarier — more than half of those cases remain untreated. Minnesota’s rate is two times higher than the national rate. Though some may say that unstable state of mind is inherent in transitional age, let’s clarify: depression is not “just being in a bad mood.”

Minnesota is proudly ranked sixth among all states by the number of mental health facilities providing support for depression. However, a larger half of youth do not receive the services they need, which means depression is not being recognized, which has yet to be changed.

Untreated depression increases chances of dropping out of school by two times, which is followed by doubling the difficulties in employment and delinquent behavior. We know that high school dropouts are 63 times more likely to be jailed than college graduates. And this is not the end of the chain. The chances to suffer from substance misuse are elevated, as are possibilities to get serious physical injuries and related somatic disorders. Finally, the thought that is on everyone’s mind, but too uncomfortable to say out loud: suicide risk is always there. It is the third leading cause of mortality among adolescents in Hennepin county. 

As we look at the numbers, we see the rate going up more dramatically from the beginning of the century. Why? What did the century bring us? Social media. Impairment of personal communication due to social media is responsible for a 71 percent increase in chances of getting depressed if a teen spends five or more hours daily online. A significant number of teens admit they have to check it “almost constantly” or “hourly” and “feeling mostly negative” while using it.

Another possible reason hides in the most commonly spread activity — homework. The USA is among the most homework intensive countries in the world. Failure to cope with class requirements provokes stress, which is known to be a depression trigger. Heavy homework causes a stressful environment not only for students, but also for teachers and parents, which affects their ability to pay attention to their child’s well-being.

Organizing trainings for school employees, parents or guardians, siblings, other family members, and concerned members of the community could bring the difference. Existing legislation recommends such trainings for teachers and students, however, making it mandatory and reaching out to larger groups of people will create a better chain of support. Frankly speaking, recognizing depression early will not eliminate the issue completely, since it is not aimed at incidence, but will solve the problem of untreated depression, so the prevalence will decrease. 

Such an amendment into the section 120B.21 of Minnesota Statute 2018 was introduced to the legislature by senators Jensen, Draheim and Klein a year ago. It has not passed yet. Dear legislators, are your kids alright? 

This letter to the editor was written by Anna Shchetinina, who is getting a master’s degree in Public Health at the University of Minnesota.

This letter to the editor has been lightly edited for style and clarity.