Teen Depression Rates Among Children of Divorce

teenage girl depressed standing in between parents turned away

Divorce is a common occurrence in our culture and with it comes a great deal of upheaval for families. Children are the most vulnerable, and as they grow, their chances of becoming depressed increase.

In fact, studies show that children whose parents divorced by age 15 experience a sharp increase in symptoms of depression, as compared to teens whose families were intact.

General Facts About Teens and Depression

In the general population of adolescents, depression is a serious problem. A recent large-scale study showed a significant increase in Major Depressive Episodes (MDE). It went from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.3% in 2014 in adolescents and the numbers grew from 8.8% to 9.6% for young adults.

Not only do depressive symptoms take a toll on young people in their formative years, but they may lead to later-in-life consequences. Recent data shows depression in youth can lead to some of the following:

  • Academic difficulties
  • Engagement in risky behavior (such alcohol abuse, sex, smoking, etc.)
  • Attempts at self-injury
  • Substance use disorders

Research also shows that problems can continue into adult life. Issues can include difficulty earning a good living as well as suicidality, relationship problems and even a higher divorce rate.  People depressed in their youth are also more likely to be self-injurious and make a suicide attempt as an adult.

Divorce Can Throw Teens in Turmoil

There are many reasons that young people may become depressed. It can be related to childhood trauma, abuse and loss, bullying, problems making friends, genetics and diet. When parents’ divorce, it can open a door to more chaos and confusion in the already angst-ridden and challenging formative years.

Divorce can turn a teen’s life upside down in many ways so it is important for parents to look for signs of depression in teens. And they have to be aware of the emotional consequences, especially if teens are be ripped from their homes, routines, schools and familiar lifestyles. They may also be separated from one parent and alienated from the other parent, which adds to the devastation of divorce.

Signs of depression can manifest in teens in numerous ways, such as these changes in behavior:

  • More than normal moodiness
  • Lack of interest in games or activities they once loved
  • Trouble concentrating and performance problems in school
  • Shifts in sleeping habits or the way they are eating
  • Crying and sensitivity
  • Sense of hopelessness or negative demeanor
  • Unhealthy self-soothing behaviors such as smoking and drinking

Studies also show that the trauma of divorce can linger with people for their entire lifetimes, causing everything from problems with schoolwork, learning and social skills and even leading to suicidal ideation in adulthood.

Helping Teens Through the Crisis

Parents and caregivers who notice signs of depression in teens can help children navigate the most troubling waters of divorce.

The most important part is for the parents to be as mature and responsible as possible. Sadly, when adults are hurting, they may not have as much time, energy or empathy for their children. Children are the collateral damage in a divorce and they are torn between loyalties to both parents. They are also in need of a great deal more attention when the family is in a crisis and parents may not always be able to provide comfort and reassurance.

Family therapy can help a teens, if both parents are willing to be in the same room together to deal with the emotional fallout from the divorce. If not, teens should have access to appropriate therapists. Also, where possible, it is helpful to build a connection with the most stable members of the family—such as grandparents or older siblings—so that it does not feel like their whole world has fallen apart.

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