Tag Archive for depression

Protecting Our Young Adults…AKA Saving the Life of a Young Adult

According to the 2017 Center for Disease Control and Prevention Data, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young adults, accounting for 18% of deaths in this age group. That is terrible news. But researchers from McGill University published a study that suggests a simple way to decrease suicide in young adults. This same factor can reduce depression and anxiety as well. Simply put, young adults who perceived higher levels of social support showed lower levels of anxiety and depression. Specifically, young adults who felt they had someone they could depend on for help experienced 47% less severe depression and 22% less anxiety than those with perceived less social support. They were also at a 40% decreased risk of experiencing suicidal ideation and attempts. 

You likely know people in this age group. You may even have a child in this age group. Either way, I’m sure you’d like to see fewer young adults suffering from depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide. You can help make this happen. You can help decrease the number of young adults suffering from depression, anxiety, and thought of suicide simply by welcoming them into your life. Here are four ideas to help.

  • If you have children who are young adults, reach out to them regularly. Make a consistent investment in their lives to remain connected to them. Make sure they know they remain part of the family even if they live outside the home. Be available to them when they reach out to you. Even for young adults, time is one of the greatest currency of love.
  • When you drop your children off at college, look for the potential social groups they might enjoy. Connect them with those groups. Encourage their involvement in some social groups in or around their school.  This may include young adult groups through churches, school clubs, or community groups.
  • If there are young adults in your religious community, reach out to them. Call them. Send them cards. Even invite them to lunch. Many college age people are looking for a good home-cooked meal while away from home. Make sure they know you care about them.
  • If you are a church or religious community and a young adult walks into your service, welcome them. Talk to them. Find out their name. Get to know them. Invite them back and remember them when they return. Even reach out to them during the week with a card or a call. Make them feel a part of the community.

These may sound like obvious ideas, but I have met too many young adults who could not find this connection anywhere…too many.  Make sure the young adults in your life know they are welcome in your family and your community. Invest in their lives. You might just save a life!

Adolescence, Depression, & Technology

Two recent studies explored the relationship between adolescents, video games, and internet use. Unwrapping the first study reveals a surprise. A research team from UCL, Karolinska Institute, and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute reviewed data from 11,341 adolescents born between 2000-2002. At the age of 11 years, these adolescents answered questions about their time spent on social media, time spent playing video games, and general internet use. They also answered questions about their mood, any loss of pleasure, and levels of concentration at the age 14 years. After ruling out other potential factors, the research team found that boys who played video games most days at age 11 had 24% fewer depressive symptoms at the age of 14 than did boys who played video games less than one time a mouth. Somewhat surprisingly, moderate video game playing at 11 years of age was associated with fewer depressive symptoms at 14 years of age.

A second study, published in Child Development, gathered data from a study involving 1,750 high school students over a three-year period, through the ages of 16, 17, and 18 years. This study explored risk factors contributing to problematic internet use (or internet addiction). The research suggested three harmful effects of problematic internet use and each of these effects had a reciprocal relationship with internet use. In other words, problematic internet use increased these negative outcomes and these negative outcomes increased problematic internet use. The negative outcomes included higher levels of depression, increased substance abuse, and lower levels of academic achievement. We all want to avoid those outcomes. So, what risk factors contributed to problematic internet use? And what can you do about it?

  1. A lack of satisfying relationships or the perceived inadequacy of social networks contributed to problematic internet use. In other words, loneliness predicts problematic internet use. With that in mind, involve your children in community. Enroll them in scouting, sports, dance lessons, theatre, or other group activities. Involve them in a local church youth group. Give them the opportunities to develop relationships with peers and other trusted adults in the community.
  2. Parenting practices, as perceived by the teen, contributed to the level of teen internet use. Parenting perceived as warm, empathetic, interested, and close led to healthy internet use. Parenting perceived as neglectful, being inconsistently available and consistently unresponsive, predicted problematic internet use. This draws attention to the need to build a positive connection with your children. Take time to develop a warm, loving relationship by spending time together and engaging in activities together. Talk, go on outings together, worship together, attend their concerts and sporting events, share meals together. Invest time and attention in developing a positive, loving relationship with your children. (By the way, did you know your parenting style could be killing you?)
  3. Paternal neglect, neglect by a father, had a particularly strong relationship to problematic internet use. Dads, get involved with your children. If you need ideas for involvement in your children’s lives, check out the “cheat codes for Dads.”

Exercise Your Depression

Families and happiness seem to go hand in hand. At least it appears so in Facebook posts and television commercials. But we all know families experience hardships and struggles as well. In fact, our family members might struggle with depression and that depression may deepen in times of stress like we are experiencing today.

If you, or someone in your family, struggles with depression, you know how it impacts the whole family. If so, I have good news. Two studies, one from 2017 and one from 2020, suggest a fun and effective way to help reduce the symptoms of depression. Exercise…aerobic exercise to be more specific.  In both studies, engaging in an 8-week moderate to intense aerobic exercise program reduced depressive symptoms. The most recent study (2020) found that those who had a more severe baseline of depressive symptoms were the most likely to respond positively to an aerobic exercise regime. So, if you or someone in your family struggles with depression, start exercising today. Here are some tips to help you get started.

  • Pick an aerobic exercise you will most likely enjoy. You could walk, jog, bike ride, swim, row, or many more. You can engage in these activities indoors in a gym, on a treadmill, an elliptical, or a stationary bike. Or you can enjoy these activities outdoors, allowing allow you to enjoy the benefits of nature as well.
  • Buddy up. If you struggle with depression, ask a family member or friend to join you. Join a class or group designed for that activity. If your family member struggles with depression, join them in their exercise routine. You can motivate one another while sharing company and time together. You will not only reap the benefits of exercise but the benefit of companionship and a growing relationship.
  • Make it a habit to encourage. Express gratitude for the time you share while exercising. Acknowledge improvements. Recognize the beauty around you, especially if you choose an outdoor aerobic exercise. As you do, you will also realize the positive impact of gratitude and awe on your mood and the mood of your exercise partner.

These studies measured improved results after only 8 weeks, but you might just find
yourself enjoying this so much you make a lifetime habit out of it. I know I did. So, if you or a family member are feeling depressed start exercising today.

Family Happiness is for the Birds

Remember Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Birds? Creepy…but recent studies show birds play a very different role in our lives and the lives of our families. For instance, the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research explored the data collected from 6,000 people living in 26 European countries and from a variety of socioeconomic levels. They discovered that the richness of bird species in their living environment was positively associated with life-satisfaction. The greater the bird species in an area, the greater life-satisfaction people in that area reported. In fact, a 10% increase in bird diversity led people to report an increase in life satisfaction equal to the life-satisfaction reported when a person experienced a 1.53 increase in their salary.

You might be thinking, “Birds? What are you talking about? That’s crazy!” I know. That was my initial thought as well. But think of the joy you feel when you see the first robin of spring. Last spring, we saw orioles in our neighborhood for the first time and it was genuinely exciting. But don’t take my word for it. Another study in 2017 involving 1,023 participants who lived in an urban setting explored the impact of vegetation cover and bird diversity on depression, anxiety, and stress. In particular, experiencing bird diversity in the afternoon decreased participants’ experience of depression, anxiety, and stress. Additionally, having 20-30% vegetation cover in an area resulted in enough bird diversity to reduce the severity of depression, anxiety, and stress. “Is it the birds or the vegetation cover?” you might ask. The researchers couldn’t say for sure. But a more recent study may shed some light on how to answer that question.

For a study completed in 2020, researchers hid speakers that played a variety of bird songs along sections of a popular hiking trail in Colorado. By using the speakers, researchers could adjust the perceived diversity of bird songs along the trail. Researchers then interviewed hikers about their experience along the trail. Those who experienced a greater diversity of bird songs reported improved well-being. They also reported feeling better about life and about their hiking experience than those who heard fewer bird songs. One of the researchers said they were “kind of flabbergasted” that only 7-10 minutes of exposure to greater bird diversity led to participants experiencing improved well-being. “Flabbergasted. ”  I like that word. Frankly, I’m flabbergasted myself.

What does this mean for your family? It means that taking the opportunity to hear bird songs offers another way to enhance your family’s happiness. Birds! Not Alfred Hitchcock’s birds, but the birds in your own community. Here are a few ideas to gather birds so you can hear their song.

  • Put some bird feeders in your yard. Include a hummingbird feeder and a finch feeder. Plant some flowers that will attract birds. Then sit down with your family and enjoy the show. Count how many different types of birds you see?
  • Take a family trip to an aviary. You’ll see birds from all over the world and get to listen to their songs. And, you can have great family fun nights at the aviary.
  • Go for a family walk or hike through a local park. Enjoy your time together in nature and listen for the birds.
  • You might even purchase a CD of bird songs or download forest sounds filled with bird songs and play it quietly in the background at home. It may not be quite the same as the outdoor experience, but…who knows?

These activities are not for the birds. They are for you and your family. Enjoy the experience and the increased life satisfaction your family will gain as well.

Don’t Catch Depression From This Pandemic

Depression has increased dramatically during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic studies suggested 11% of the population reported enough symptoms to meet the criteria for a diagnosis of depression. In December of 2020, during the pandemic, 42% reported enough symptoms of depression to reach a diagnosis (COVID’s Mental Health Toll). In fact, the World Health Organization noted depression as the leading cause of disability in 2020. This increase in diagnosable symptoms is shocking, but not surprising. In fact, a study published in August of 2020 and drawing information from a database of over 100,000 participants revealed social connection as the strongest protective factor against depression. So, it comes as no surprise that after a year of needing social distancing and “shelter-in-place” protocols that depression has increased. The question is: how can we connect socially while maintaining a level of physical safety? After all, our emotional lives depend on social connection, the frequency of confiding in one another, and the opportunity to visit with family and friends. How can we help our families connect socially? Here are just two ideas.

  • Consider each family member’s interests and look for groups related to those interests. This may include sports, music, scouting, science, or other clubs. Find out how various groups are encouraging involvement during this time. They may meet over zoom. Maybe they have small groups meeting while necessary precautions. You may also participate in your faith community. Once again, they may meet over zoom or in small groups with necessary precautions.
  • Call a friend and talk…or zoom. Although not as personal as face-to-face contact, talking on the phone or zooming is the next best thing to face-to-face contact. So, connect via phone or zoom rather than text. You may also meet a friend at the park for a walk or sit in an outdoor setting to talk. You might even meet a friend or two at a restaurant that has outdoor seating or is maintaining necessary safety precautions. You can also enjoy a picnic or simply watching your children with a friend in the back yard.

These represent only two ideas for maintaining social connection during this time. Doing so takes some effort but will bring a greater sense of peace and happiness to you and your family.

What are your ideas for maintaining social connection during the pandemic? What have you and your family done?

Religion & Your Child’s Mental Health

Perhaps a good New Year’s resolution for your family would include religion. Why? Because raising kids with religion or spirituality may protect their mental health. I’m sure that sounds controversial and naïve to some, but a study published in 2018 suggests it to be true. This study looked at the data of 5,000 people who participated in a long-term study. It looked specifically at children’s religious involvement from pre-teen years into their twenties. Those who attended religious services at least one time a week with their families when they were children and teens were about 18% more likely to report being happier, 30% more likely to do volunteer work, and 33% less likely to use drugs in their 20’s. In addition, those who prayed or meditated every day reported more life satisfaction, exhibited a better ability to process emotions, and were more forgiving than those who never prayed.

Another study, published in 2019, reviewed 32 studies and found that religious training and involvement was associated with less anxiety in general. Religious training and involvement were associated with less anxiety in relation to various diseases and across different cultures and countries as well.

These are just two studies that suggest a positive impact of religious involvement on mental health. Why does religious involvement have this impact? Perhaps the recognition of “something bigger than ourselves” helps reduce stress and anxiety as does the social support inherent in most religious communities. In addition, there is the impact of a Benevolent Higher Power generously caring and providing for us. With all this in mind, could your family enjoy a potential decrease in anxiety? Then a good New Year’s resolution for your family might include involvement in a religious community. Happy New Year.  

Help Flatten the Curve on THIS Crisis

We have a crisis on our hands…and it has been around much longer than the covid-19 pandemic. Perhaps it’s easier to ignore, easier to pretend it doesn’t exist; but it is a crisis, nonetheless. The percentage of teens (12- to 17-years-old) who suffer at the hands of this crisis has increased from 8.7% in 2005 to 13.2% in 2017! Let me put that into perspective. At the time of this writing (4/20/2020), 792,938 people of all ages have been diagnosed with covid-19 in the United States. In 2017 alone, 3.2 million adolescents between 12- and 17-years-old in the United States were diagnosed with depression. And that number only represents adolescents, not adults. (see NIMH Major Depression for more statistics). Suicide, a danger for those suffering with depression, has increased 47% between 2000 and 2017. In fact, 6,200 teens and young adults (between 15- and 24-years-old) died by suicide in 2017. (The Parent Resource Program). We have a crisis. But what can we do to stem this crisis? Here are five suggestions. They may sound simplistic, but they can produce results that will save lives.

  1. Nurture a growth mindset in your children. A growth mindset focuses on effort rather than the end result or product. In other words, it focuses on the effort invested rather than the final grade, the trophy, or the grade point average. It teaches that effort is more important than the final grade. In the long run, this will help to build your child’s success mindset and decrease the potential for depression.
  2. Value failure and setbacks as learning opportunities. They are not the end or something to be embarrassed about. In fact, failure is a kind of success. It allows us to learn, make adjustments, and continue to grow. Do your child a favor and love mistakes. Cultivate an environment that celebrates effort and learns from mistakes. 
  3. Help your children discover and pursue intrinsic goals, things they love. Intrinsic goals are those goals a person pursues by their own choosing and for their own enjoyment. So much of our children’s world is made up of external goals, those goals focused on material rewards and other people’s judgments. Grades, teacher expectation, and coaches’ determinations as well as media appraisals of appearance and popularity make up some of the external goals shaping our children’s lives. Unfortunately, a focus on external goals contributes to depression. Help your children discover their intrinsic goals and motivations. Become a student of their strengths and interests. Present opportunities for them to nurture their interests. Encourage their individuality. (For more benefits of learning about your children read Parents are Students…And Guess Who Their Teacher Is.
  4. Let them play. Free play, play without adult direction and supervision, invites children to control their own play through negotiation and compromise. It encourages problem-solving and competence in the pursuit of personal interests. In other words, play is much more than fun and games. Free play nurtures a growth mindset and intrinsic goals as well as teaching person limits and social skills. (Read Who Needs a Prescription for Play to learn more benefits of play.)
  5. Teach your children healthy screen management. Studies suggest that becoming overinvolved with cell phones and social media platforms can contribute to depression. It sucks up time, potentially limiting opportunities to become physically active…and research suggest that just an hour of physical activity decreases the risk of depression by 10%. It casts a false view of life, increasing the fear of missing out. And, the burden of a smartphone is too great for our children to manage. They do not have the maturity level to manage it independently and effectively. We need to teach them how to use their electronic devices wisely, to be a smart consumer of social media so social media does not consume them.

These five steps can help stem the rising tide of depression in our families and our communities. Will you join these efforts to stem the rise, to flatten the curve, of depression among our children and youth?

A Couch Potato Teen? The Good News, Bad News, & Even Better News

What’s wrong with a couch potato? Researchers in the United Kingdom have answered that question. Well…they didn’t ask that question literally, but they answered it nonetheless. They followed 4,000 children using “wearable devices called accelerometers.” These devices record body movements, sort of like a Fitbit. They analyzed the data collected through these devices when the children were 12, 14, and 16 years old. Ironically, their daily sedentary time increased from 7 hours and 10 minutes to 8 hours and 40 minutes over the span of those years. The knowledge they gained about adolescent activity levels comes with good news and bad news.

First, the bad news. This increase in sedentary time was associated with an increased risk of depression. A decrease in activity level contributed to the risk of depression. Specifically, every hour of increased sedentary time during adolescence was associated with an 8-11% increase in a risk of depression at 18-years-old.

Now the good news. The risk of depression decreased by 10% with every hour of physical activity added to a teen’s day. In other words, adding an hour of physical activity to a teen’s day cut the risk of depression by 10%! Adding two hours of physical activity cut the risk of depression by 20%!

But wait. There’s even better news. Physical activity does not have to involve the gym, sports, or a major workout. These are good, but not the only options. Physical activity in this study simply meant moving around. Even light activity like walking to a friend’s house, running errands, standing while talking to friends (rather than “sitting on the phone”), doing chores around the house, or helping set the table helped to accrue physical activity…and decrease depression! That is great news because there are so many options to help your teen gain more physical activity. Really, anything other than the sedentary sitting or lying down while play video games or watching TV is going to help accrue time of physical activity. So, encourage your teen to walk to a friend’s house, ride their bike to the store, play a game of pick up basketball with friends, do some chores…anything to get them on their feet and moving.

For an added bonus, engage in some physical activities with them—walk the dog together, ride your bikes to a movie, do yardwork together, engage them in cleaning the house with you. Not only will the physical activity help decrease their risk of depression, but the time spent with you will contribute to their long-term health and happiness as well.

A Teen Epidemic & Containment

The epidemic of depression and suicide is spreading among our teens (13-18-years-old) like wildfire, especially among girls. Consider these statistics:

  • Suicide rate has increased 31% from 2010 to 2015 among teens. Even more disturbing, the suicide rate has increased 65% among adolescent girls over the same time period!
  • Symptoms of depression have increased 58% among girls from 2010 to 2015 (Excessive Screen Time Linked to Suicide Risk).

In searching for potential causes of this rapid increase in depression and suicidal rates among teens, researchers realized that cell phone ownership increased dramatically over the same time period. In 2012, about half of Americans owned a cell phone. By 2015, only 3 years later, 92% of teens and young adults owned one.  This does not mean that cell phones cause depression, but an association between does exist between the two. Interestingly, this same research does not reveal a link between homework load, academic pressure, or financial problems and the rapid rise in depression and suicidal rates among teens even though it looked for such links (The Risk of Teen Depression and Suicide is Linked to Smartphone Use, Study Says). On the other hand, the study did reveal that:

  • 13-18-year-olds who spend 3 or more hours a day on electronic devices are 35% more likely to exhibit a risk factor for suicide than those who spend only an hour or less on electronic devices,
  • 13-18-year-olds who spend 5 hours or more a day on electronic devices are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide than those who spend only an hour on electronic devices.  
  • 48% of teens who spent 5 hours or more per day on electronic devices reported suicide-related behaviors compared to only 28% of teens who spent an hour or less on electronic devices. (OPEN LETTER FROM JANA PARTNERS AND CALSTRS TO APPLE INC.).

Fortunately, recognizing the link between electronic devices and depression and suicide offers us a way to contain the epidemic of depression and suicide rates among teens…not a complete cure, but a way to reduce the spread of an epidemic robbing us of our teens.  With that in mind, I offer four suggestions.

  1. Limit screen time to 2 hours per day or less. Our teens have not developed the skills to manage the addictive nature of electronic devices. (Perhaps many of us as adults have not developed those skills yet either.) Limiting screen-time to 2 hours per day keeps a teen in the area NOT associated with an increase in depressive symptoms or suicidal behaviors. This may involve teaching our teens to limit time spent on social media, turn off alerts, not spend down-time watching videos, limit video game time, and check social media less often. (For more, consider The Burden of a Smartphone.)
  2. Model limited use of electronic devices. We can’t expect our teens to use their devices less when they see us, their parents, wrapped up in our phones and devices. I thought I would never use electronic devices for 3 hours in a day. Surely, I was in the “safe zone.” Then Apple put “Screen Time” in the phone settings and my time usage started popping up. I discovered that I can easily average 3-4 hours per day on my smartphone! Clearly, I have to learn how to limit my time on the phone in order to model a healthy use of electronic devices to the children in my life. Do you?
  3. Encourage non-screen activities like sports, outdoor play and exercise, face-to-face interactions, church, non-screen hobbies, and family games. Teach your teens to have fun without screens. Let them learn by experience that face-to-face interactions are more enjoyable than social media, “real-life games” are more enjoyable than “virtual games,” and hands-on hobbies more enjoyable than screen-time games.
  4. Take a vacation from electronic devices. A study from UCLA noted that after only 5 days of a “device-free outdoor camp,” children performed better on tests for empathy than did a control group.  Another study showed that a month without Facebook led to greater happiness.  Take a vacation. Do it as a family and invest time previously spent on devices engaging in “real-time” interaction with one another and “real-life” experiences. (For more ideas, check out Don’t Let Them Take Over.)

We all have work to do in balancing our lives in a world where electronic devices impinge more and more on our daily lives. But the work we do to limit electronic devices in our lives and the lives our family members,’ could save a life…maybe even the life of your teen!

You Can Help Prevent Teen Suicide with These Simple Actions

I have bad news. Teen suicide rates are on the rise. In fact, suicide rates for teen girls hit a 40-year high in 2017 (Suicide Rate for Teen Girls Hits 40 Year High). Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teens 12- to 19-years-old in 2006 (CDC: Mortality Among Teens Age 12-19 Years Old) and the second leading cause of death for those 10- to 24-years-old in 2015 (National Vital Statistics Report-see page 10 for figure). Many times depression or other mood disorders can be involved (Teen Suicide Statistics).  Overall, this is devastating information. Our young people are crying out in need of something.  But what do they need? A study presented at the 2017 American Public Health Association conference gives us a hint and tells us how we might stem the rising tide of teen suicide. They presented three conclusions from a 2012 US national Study of Parental Behaviors and Suicidal Feelings Among Adolescents that can cut suicide risk by up to 7 times (These Parenting Behaviours Cut Suicide Risk 7 Times).

  1. Tell your children and teens you are proud of them. Adolescents were five times more likely to have suicidal thoughts, seven times more likely to have a suicidal plan, and seven times more likely to attempt suicide when their parents rarely or never expressed pride in them. Adolescents need to know we take pride in their actions and their efforts. They need to know we take pride in them!
  2. Tell your children they have done a good job. This simple action was associated with a similar level of suicidal risk noted above. When we acknowledge a job well done we communicate our teen’s value. We inform them that we notice their and appreciate their work. We express the importance of their place and work in our home and world. We acknowledge their power to do things and the importance of that power in our lives.
  3. Help your children with their homework. Once again, helping with homework was associated with a similar level of suicidal risk noted in bullet #1. Helping our children and teens with homework communicates love. It lets them know we are interested in their world and committed to their growth. It gives us the opportunity to learn and grow with them, sharing in tasks together. It expresses how much we love them…enough to help them in the work of their daily world.

Once again, these three simple actions significantly reduce the risk of suicide in teens. Unfortunately, many teens do not receive these simple blessings from their parents. Make sure your teen does.

I would add two other important actions we can take to protect our teens from suicide.

  1. Get to know your teen. Learn about their world of friends and activities. Observe their moods and behaviors. If you see some change in their mood, if they appear depressed or isolated, seek help. Many teens who commit suicide have some type of mood disorder or change in peer relationships (Teen Suicide Statistics). Know you teen well enough to recognize the signs…and get help if they need it.
  2. Limit the use of electronic devices and encourage face-to-face interactions. In recent studies, Jean Twenge and colleagues identified that teens who spend five or more hours per day on devices are 71% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide. (The Risk of Teen Depression and Suicide is Linked to Smartphone Use) At the same time, getting rid of all devices did not help. Instead, the option resulting in the best mental health limited time on devices while encouraging face-to-face interactions.  (Read Just So You Know: Screen Time & Teen Happiness for more on this.)

Overall, these five actions are not hard. They do take time. They mean investing in the lives of our youth.  And that’s a great investment…after all they are amazing people with exciting futures who will build the tomorrow in which you and I grow!

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