Depression

I wish that everything was different. I wish that I was part of something. I wish that anything I said mattered, to anyone. I mean, let’s face it: would anybody even notice if I disappeared tomorrow?

These troubling words come from the Broadway hit “Dear Evan Hansen,” but they sound all too real to many teenagers struggling with mental health issues. The Tony Award-winning musical chronicles a teen’s struggle with debilitating depression and anxiety, and has clearly struck a nerve with its audience: a book based on the production, “Dear Evan Hansen: The Novel,” became an instant best-seller.

The musical’s popularity shouldn’t be a surprise: According to the National Alliance for Mental Health, one in five children ages 13 to 18 suffers from a serious mental condition such as a mood or anxiety disorder. And according to a recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide has become the second leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 18, with 17 percent of high school students each year considering suicide.

For Dr. Alicia Salyer, a pediatrician who has been practicing in the Lowcountry for 15 years, these stats aren’t surprising.

“Nationwide, there is an epidemic of increasing mental health problems in teens. I am seeing dramatically more frequent visits for these (symptoms) than I did 10 years ago,” she said, citing factors like the rise of social media and increased academic stress. “Social media use has been directly correlated with depression. The younger a child is when he or she has access to social media, and the more hours per day they spend on it, the higher the risk.”

Dr. Maureen Hawkins, a clinical psychologist with 20 years of experience working with adolescents and young adults, agrees.

“For adolescents who have their phones next to them at all times, there's a pressure to respond instantly to messages. The phone ‘pings’ and they don't know how to disconnect from it,” Dr. Hawkins said. And with friends constantly posting about their activities, there's little time or space for students to just relax — they feel like they are always missing out on something or racing to keep up with their peers, she said.

Academic pressures are also a big contributor.

“Anxiety around academics has definitely increased,” Hawkins said. And while academic-related anxiety has always existed to a degree, she has seen it trickle down to a bigger chunk of the student population. “It isn't just the kids trying to go to Ivy League colleges," she said. 

Salyer agrees: “Teens who are academic high-achievers tend to have tremendous anxiety about doing well at school. For them, every very bad grade is a crisis.”

Schools are often on the front line in dealing with the emotional and academic stressors that affect adolescents. But with counseling staff responsible for students’ emotional needs, college placement and a host of other issues, it’s difficult to cover all the bases.

But there’s hope: According to Heather Tweten, a social worker at Bluffton High School, school counselors and social workers have begun working collaboratively with teachers to better identify at-risk students, as well as bringing in mental health professionals from the community to provide on-site counseling. Some schools are also working with organizations such as NAMI to educate students about depression, anxiety and the importance of asking for help.

And asking for help is important: The National Institute for Mental Health has found that most people suffering from depression need treatment to get better. Yet 60 percent of adolescents with depression don’t get treatment, experts say. Cognitive or dialectical behavioral therapy, which helps identify and challenge negative thought patterns, is highly effective in treating anxiety and depression, as are strategies including mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation and interpersonal effectiveness. When therapy alone is not successful, medication can be a helpful addition and should be discussed with a physician.

Hawkins said parents should also get involved in their children’s care. Set aside time to relax and reconnect with your child, even if it’s just an hour at Starbucks or chatting in the car. Parents also should monitor their children’s use of social media and other technology, and Hawkins encourages them to keep smartphones out of the bedroom at night. Finally, parents should know when to ask for help themselves. There are several resources for teens facing depression or anxiety in the Lowcountry, and they can offer support to the whole family.

ASK FOR HELP

For more information on coping with depression or anxiety, reach out to one of the following organizations:

  • National Institute of Mental Health: www.nimh.nih.gov
  • National Alliance for Mental Illness: 843-681-2200 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741 or www.crisistextline.org
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-799-4889 or www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

MENTAL HEALTH PROFESSIONALS

Bell & Associates: Bluffton, 912-704-8262
Blue Mind Mental Health: Hilton Head Island, 843-422-6157
Bluffton Okatie Counseling Center: Ridgeland, 843-636-5017
Vicki Bonnell: Bluffton, 843-757-4737
Tina Boyle: Bluffton, 843-726-8193
Coastal Empire Community Mental Health Center: Hilton Head Island, 843-681-5865; Jasper County and Ridgeland, 843-726-8030
Maureen Hawkins: Hilton Head Island, 843-438-4836
Heart, Mind & Soul: Bluffton, 843-592-3998
High Tide Counseling: Bluffton, 308-765-8027
JSS Behavioral Services: Bluffton, 843-637-4211
Dr. Kelly Nicholson: Bluffton, 843-368-5220
Dawn Page: Bluffton, 843-384-5151
Susan Stevens Pickett: Bluffton, 843-422-5504
Psychological and Counseling Associates of the Lowcountry: Bluffton, 843-290-6828
Dr. Catherine Scott: Okatie, 864-630-9185
Trinity Counseling: Bluffton, 843-816-0944
Volunteers in Medicine: Hilton Head Island, 843-689-6612; Bluffton, 843-706-7090
Wright Directors Family Services in Ridgeland: 843-645-7700