Depression in the United States is on the rise. Consider these statistics: depression for adults between 18-years-old and 29-years-old is up 13.9 percentage points (from 20.4% in 2017 to 34.3% in 2023). During the same time period, depression among those between 30-years-old and 44-years-old rose 12.6 percentage points (from 22.3% to 34.9%). The rate of depression in youth has also increased 24% between 2016 and 2019. Most recently, 11.5% of youth reported severe major depression in 2023. Depression has increased dramatically in our society. (For more on this see U.S. Depression Rates Reach New Highs (gallup.com) and The State of Pediatric Mental Health in America 2023 Report – Office Practicum.)
Fortunately, you can help cut the risk of depression in half for your family members by practicing a few habits in your home. Specifically, research suggests that practicing five or more of these seven habits can cut the risk of depression in half. Don’t limit yourself to five though. You can build all seven into your family lifestyle, protecting your family from depression. Here are the seven habits.
Develop healthy, age-appropriate sleep habits. Getting a good night’s rest reduces the risk of depression. It also reduces the risk of suicide. So, create a positive bedtime routine and encourage everyone to get their eight hours.
Exercise. Physical activity has been shown to be as effective as medication for many in managing and reducing depression. You can go for a walk, ride your bike, run, play a sport, swim… The options are countless. The goal is to get moving. Exercise and reduce your risk of depression.
Maintain a healthy diet. Eat those fruits and vegetables to fight depression. A healthy balanced diet helps to stabilize our mood and protects us from depression. Along those same lines…
Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a depressant. It slows brain activity. People who drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol (more than two drinks a day for men or one drink a day for women) increase their risk of depression.
Stop smoking.Smoking increases the risk of depression. The more a person smokes, the higher the risk of depression. Smoking cessation decreases the risk of depression and the longer the duration of not smoking, the lower the risk of depression.
Get away from the screen. Put down the technology and get moving. Long periods of sedentary behavior represent an increased risk for depression. Instead of binge watching your favorite series, “go old school” and watch one episode a week. If you don’t want to “go totally old school,” watch one episode a day. The goal is to get up and get moving every day to avoid sedentary behavior. In addition, get off social media and socialize face-to-face more often…which leads to our last daily habit to decrease the risk of depression.
Cultivate friendships and social connections. Hobbies and activities with those who share your interests will create an excellent opportunity to build social connections. Engaging in hobbies and activities that we enjoy, especially with other people, boosts our mood. It increases our sense of well-being and increases our life satisfaction. It decreases depression.
Know what I like about these seven habits? They are good, healthy habits for everyone. They represent a lifestyle of wellness that will benefit all of us. Cutting the risk of depression does not demand we do something extraordinary. It simply means we live a healthy lifestyle and promote a healthy lifestyle in our families. Make it a point to do so this year.
Yes, this is the blog I hate to write. I guess I don’t “hate” to write it…I’m just a little reluctant. And I hope my wife doesn’t see it. She likes to dance, but me, well, I’m not really much of a dancer. I mean I danced in the living room with my children when they were young. I’ll do a slow dance with my wife now and again. But all those eyes scare me. I get self-conscious. Still, after reading an article from Greater Good, I might have to change my ways and start to dance. Why? Well…
Dancing can improve our sense of well-being and energy. One study completed in 2004 compared the effects of dancing, yoga, and listening to a biology lecture. I thought the biology lecture would come out on top, but dancing and yoga reduced the participants’ stress and negative emotions. Even more, only dance increased positive emotions! In fact, another study showed that only dancing with a partner to music had the effect of reducing cortisol (a stress hormone) in response to the music and increasing testosterone in response to dancing with a partner. Who doesn’t want a greater sense of well-being and energy for themselves AND their spouse?
Dancing can also help decrease depression. In fact, a 2012 study split participants into three groups: one group learned the tango, a second group practiced meditation, and a third group remained on a waiting list. The tango and meditation groups both experienced a decrease in depression. But only the dance group experienced a reduction in stress as well. I’d love to engage in an activity that could buffer feelings of depression for myself AND my spouse…wouldn’t you?
Dancing can increase intimacy. We get in sync when we dance with people…and it seems to be related to moving together in response to common music. A study in 2016 showed this by splitting participants who danced to music in their headphones into three groups: in one group everyone listened to the same music and learned the same moves; in a second group, participants learned the same moves but listened to different music, and in a third group participants listened to the same music but learned had different moves. Only the group that listened to the same music and learned the same moves felt in sync. They felt closer to one another. They grew more intimate in their relationship. A more intimate relationship—I’m always looking for ways to grow closer to my wife. Sounds like a good option.
A greater sense of well-being, more energy, a decrease in feelings of depression, reduced stress, and greater intimacy…yes, I might have to take up dancing with my spouse. How about you?
As seen in previous studies, corporal punishment was associated with increased anxiety and depression. However, this study also revealed that corporal punishment was associated with how the participants processed making errors and receiving rewards on a neural level. Specifically,
Adolescents who received physical punishments showed a larger neural response to errors. They reacted more strongly to making mistakes.
Adolescents who received physical punishment also showed a “blunted response to rewards.” They did not respond as strongly to rewards as those who did not receive physical punishment.
These neural responses directly impact our children’s levels of anxiety and depression. Specifically, an increased response to making errors is associated with anxiety. A decreased response to rewards is related to depression.
In other words, using corporal punishment as a major tool for discipline actually changes how your children respond to making mistakes and how they respond to rewards on a neural level. It changes how your children’s brain functions in processing information about mistakes and rewards. That change increases the risk of anxiety and depression.
So how can you discipline your children without corporal punishment? Without increasing the risk of long-term depression and anxiety? That’s a great question. Here are some resources to help you discover the many alternatives:
We have witnessed a dramatic rise in children with depression and anxiety that began even before the COVID pandemic. In fact, anxiety among children increased 27% from 2016 to 2019. Depression increased 24% during the same time period. In 2020, about 9.7% of children carried a diagnosis of anxiety and 4% had a diagnosis of depression. (See Research Update: Children’s Anxiety and Depression on the Rise.) I don’t know about you, but I find this very disturbing. So, you can imagine how excited I get when I find research suggesting a simple way to potentially reverse this alarming trend.
A study led by the University of Exeter offers a perfect example. In this study, researcher surveyed nearly 2,500 parents of children 5- to 11-years-old. The surveys asked parents how often their children engaged in “thrilling and exciting” play that might arouse “some fear and uncertainty” as well as their child’s play in general and their general mental health and mood. They discovered that children who spent more time playing outside had fewer of the “internalizing problems” associated with depression and anxiety. In other words, they were less likely to have symptoms of depression or anxiety.
Playing outside provides greater opportunity for “thrilling, exciting” play. It gives children the opportunity to experiment with and safely test their limits. It is adventurous, rewarding… and free. Experimenting with their ability, experiencing adventure, and feeling rewarded combine to increase a child’s confidence, ability to plan, self-awareness, and positive sense of self. And, because it’s fun children will do it often.
So, if you want to decrease the chances of your child experiencing diagnosable symptoms of depression or anxiety, take them outside for some adventurous play. Give them the freedom to encounter challenges and risks in their daily play. If you’re looking for some adventurous activities to try…
Go for an overnight camping trip.
Go for a hike.
Go swimming, paddling, or rafting on a river or lake.
Create an obstacle course in your backyard…or living room.
Explore the woods with a friend.
Let your children walk to the store alone.
Try out new skills like skateboarding, jumping on a trampoline, or rock climbing.
Climb a tree.
What other adventurous activities have you engaged in with your children? Or allowed your children to engage in with other children?
Depression is a growing problem in our country, especially among our teens and young adults. However, an interesting study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests a way to limit depression in your family. This study involved 72 males between 18- and 25-years-old who scored in the moderate to severe range of depression based on Beck’s Depression Inventory Scale. These young men were randomly assigned to one of two groups for twelve weeks. One group talked with a researcher about neutral topics like movies or hobbies. The other group received education and support to help them eat a Mediterranean Diet. Those who ate the Mediterranean Diet showed a significant decrease in depressive symptoms. Amazingly, 100% of them showed significant improvement in depressive symptoms and 36% dropped from moderate/severe depression to low/minimal depression on the Becks Depression Inventory Scale.
Why would a healthy diet like the Mediterranean Diet have such a profound effect on well-being and mood? Because it provides a person with the nutrients they need to act as the precursors and building blocks for the neurotransmitters that promote positive mental health.
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!
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?
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.
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?)
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.”
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.
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.
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?