Few issues in society transcend all economic, educational, ethnic, gender, intellectual, occupational, political, religious, sexual, and social boundaries. Depression and teen violence are two such issues, impacting every individual as well as society at large, both directly and indirectly. While the causes and symptoms associated with depression and teen violence are well-known, doctors and researchers have yet to develop and implement a clear, uniform, tried and proven method that would eliminate and/or prevent depression and teen violence. One of the primary reasons depression and teen violence is highly difficult to eliminate and/or prevent is that while depression and teen violence are often intertwined, individuals who suffer from depression may not exhibit symptoms of depression or violent tendencies until it is too late, i.e., until an unexpected, violent school shooting occurs.
This paper analyzes and examines the multitude of issues related to depression and teen violence. Part II outlines the causes and symptoms associated with depression. In Part III, the relationship between depression and teen violence is explored. Finally, this paper concludes with recommendations eliminating and/or reducing depression and teen violence.
II. CAUSES AND SYMPTOMS ASSOCIATED WITH DEPRESSION AND TEEN VIOLENCE
Numerous causes and symptoms are associated with depression and teen violence. First, major depression affects nearly 1 in 12 adolescents (Birmaher, 1996), and in any given 6-month period, approximately 5% of 9- to 17-year-olds suffer from major depression. (Schaffer, 1996). Next, it is important to recognize the symptoms of depression, as individuals frequently fail to recognize depression, erroneously believing that it is merely normal sadness, a phase that a teen is going through, or a sign of weakness. Knowing the symptoms associated with depression enables individuals to distinguish depression from occasional normal sadness or moodiness. Common symptoms of depression include: (1) Sad or irritable mood; (2) Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyable; (3) Large changes in appetite or weight; (4) Difficulty sleeping, or oversleeping; (5) Slow or agitated movement; (6) Loss of energy; (7) Feelings of worthlessness or guilt; (8) Difficulty concentrating; and (9) Frequent thoughts of death or suicide. (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).
Other signs of depression are: (1) Frequent headaches, muscle aches, stomach aches or tiredness, without a medical cause; (2) Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school; (3) Talk of or efforts to run away from home; (4) Boredom, sulking; (5) Lack of interest in spending time with friends or family; (6) Alcohol or substance abuse; (7) Social isolation, poor communication; (8) Fear of death; (9) Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure; (10) Increased irritability, anger, hostility, or crying; (11) Reckless behavior; (12) Neglect of clothing and appearance; (13) Difficulty with relationships; and (14) Changes in mood.
National Institute of Mental Health. Depression in Children and Adolescents: A Fact Sheet for Physicians). Individuals who have a number of these symptoms for more than a few weeks are likely suffering from major depression, and may need professional help in the form of counseling, medication, and other treatment.
A multitude of factors cause individuals to become depressed. First, certain incidents may result in situational or temporary depression. Examples of such events include death of a family member, friend, or loved one; medical problems; pregnancy; rape; relationship difficulties; sexual molestation; etc. For individuals who suffer from temporary depression, a combination of medication and therapy may be appropriate. Next, some individuals have chemical imbalances that cause long-term depression. Often times such chemical imbalances are the results of heredity and require extended medication and therapy.
Teen violence takes many forms, including assaults with or without weapons, emotional and physical bullying, gang violence, physical fights, school shootings, suicide, and threatening remarks. While teen violence has always been a problem in the United States, the number of deaths and serious injuries increased dramatically during the late 1980's and early 1990's, as more and more teens began carrying guns, knives, and other weapons. However, in recent years, fewer teens are carrying weapons, teen murder arrests have dropped by almost 60%, and the arrest rate for violent crimes is down 36% from its peak in 1994. In order to fully understand the nature and extent of teen violence, it is crucial to examine facts and statistics regarding the issue.
In 1999, nearly 1 in 9 murders were committed by youth under 18, and on average, 5 youths are arrested for murder each day (a total of 1,176 in 1999). (Fox, 2001). Additionally, in 1999, teens accounted for roughly 1 in 6 violent crime arrests in 1999. (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2000). For every teen arrested, at least 10 were engaged in violence that could have seriously injured or killed another individual. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). Numerous research studies have indicated that between 30-40% of male teens and 16-32% of female teens say they have committed a serious violent offense by the age of 17. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001).
III. RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN DEPRESSION AND TEEN VIOLENCE
The relationship between depression and teen violence is well-known, yet still fully undiscovered. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, teens that commit acts of serious violence are often involved in other types of criminal behavior and live a lifestyle that involves a number of risky behaviors, including abusing alcohol and drugs, carrying weapons, driving recklessly, and engaging in unprotected sex. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). While some violent teens begin to get in trouble as children, most don't become involved in a violent lifestyle until their teenage years. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). Between 20-45% of males who commit serious violent crimes by the age of 16 or 17 were violent as children, while 45-69% of violent girls were violent in childhood. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). The small percentage of teens that engaged in serious violence before age 13 generally commit more crimes, and more serious crimes, than those teens that start later. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). In addition, these teens are more likely to continue to engage in violence into adulthood. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001). By contrast, only about 20% of all seriously violent teens continue to commit violent acts as adults. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers -- over 1,500 teens kill themselves each year. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Depression is prevalent among teens, as evidenced by the fact that nearly 1 in 12 high-school students say they have made a suicide attempt in the past year. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). In addition, more than 3 in 5 youth suicides involve firearms. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The link between depression and teen violence is further evidenced by the fact that roughly 1 in 20 high-school students say they have carried a gun in the past month. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 6 high-school students say they have carried a gun, knife or club in the past month, and nearly 1 in 4 teens report having easy access to guns at home. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Few issues are as difficult to resolve as depression and teen violence. Although the causes and symptoms associated with depression and teen violence are well-known to doctors and researchers, there is no single, tried and proven cure. What makes this issue so troubling is that depression impacts the individual who is depressed as well as his/her family, friends, loved ones, and even total strangers. Problems associated with depression include: (1) Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed; (2) Relationships with family and friends may begin to suffer; (3) Poor school attendance and performance; (4) Running away; (5) Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness; (6) Drinking or taking drugs, which only makes the depression worse; (7) Suicide; and (8) Teen violence like school shootings. While counseling and medication may eliminate and/or reduce depression and teen violence, individuals and society need to be more focused on identifying the causes and symptoms associated with depression and teen violence before what is most likely a situational or temporary difficult time erupts into violence that may never be erased.
Birmaher, B., Ryan, N.D., Williamson, D.E., et al. (1996). Childhood and Adolescent Depression: A Review of the Past 10 Years. Part 1. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35(11), 1427-39.
Schaffer, D., Fisher, P., Dulkan, M.K., et al. (1996). The NIMH Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children Version 2.3 (DISC-2.3): Description, Acceptability, Prevalence Rates and Performance in the MECA Study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 35(7), 865-77.
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fourth Edition (DSM IV). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.