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Impact of Youth Depression in Oregon
Impact of Youth Depression in Oregon
Oregon has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the country. Our state's youth suicide rate has been reaching epidemic proportions:
  • Oregon's youth suicide rate is 30-40% above the U.S. national rate this decade.
  • Oregon's suicide rate for older adolescents has increased 400% over the last four decades.
  • Suicide is Oregon's number two cause of death among youth.
  • On average, 75 youth aged 10-24 have killed themselves in Oregon every year during the last decade.
Research on suicidal youth has made it clear: adolescents who die by suicide are most likely to be clinically depressed when they complete suicide. The statewide youth suicide prevention plan developed by the Oregon Health Services underscores one of the keys to reducing our youth suicide rate - we all must be able to recognize the warning signs of depression in youth. Clearly, suicide and homicide are the most tragic results of depression in youth. However, this medical illness also has a much greater impact on our youth, families, schools, juvenile justice system, workplaces, communities and state than most of us realize, with serious consequences on emotional and physical health, and financial well-being. It is critical that we recognize the far-reaching, devastating impact of depression in youth if we are to meaningfully improve the health of Oregonians.

Emotional Disruption

Depression has a negative emotional impact on the affected youth and family when the young person withdraws from or aggravates family members. Depressed youth will tend to hang around peers who are having similar problems, increasing the chances for further disruption. These problems may include doing poorly in school, running away, developing legal problems, having a child as an adolescent, developing a smoking habit, abusing alcohol or drugs, and attempting suicide or homicide.

Our schools are similarly affected by students who are depressed. Youth with untreated depression are more likely to struggle with classwork, avoid or drop out of school or get suspended due to disruptive behavior.

Our legal system is impacted by depressed youth. Too many youth are required to live at juvenile detention centers like Hillcrest or MacLaren for several years as a result of criminal behavior directly influenced by clinical depression. Other youth develop depression while in juvenile detention facilities or adult prisons, the consequences of which can be deadly. Hillcrest deserves credit for putting a much higher priority on the mental health evaluation and treatment of their youth following the five suicides that occured several years ago.

Take the time to talk with someone who has lost a family member or friend to suicide or homicide. Their pain and suffering lasts an entire lifetime.

Physical Impact

While people tend to focus on the emotional impact of depression in youth, it is equally important that we recognize the numerous physical consequences that can result from unrecognized and untreated clinical depression.

Some depressed youth will overeat and become overweight, increasing their risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks, diabetes and other serious health conditions. Youth who turn to smoking to deal with their depression can eventually develop lung cancer or emphysema. Depressed youth who turn to alcohol or drugs to deal with their depression put themselves at significant risk for cirrhosis of the liver, heart disease and other serious health conditions, should chemical dependence develop over time. Musselman, et al., noted that depression itself has a significant impact on the progression of heart disease and death after a heart attack.

The World Health Organization?s Global Burden of Disease study indicated that clinical depression will be the second most burdensome illness in the world by the year 2020. One can understand why the Oregon Medical Association supports mental health parity with physical health insurance coverage, given the relatively limited coverage health plans currently offer to treat mental illness.

Financial Consequences

The financial impact of untreated depression also weighs heavily on our state. With more than 17 million Americans across the country experiencing depression every year, the economic consequences of untreated depression are serious.

An important study by Greenburg, et al., estimated the cost of depression to employers in the United States to be $23.8 billion in absenteeism and lost productivity in 1990. One can appreciate the cost to our education system for those students who need special education services due to emotional problems related to their depression-services that might not have been needed had the youth's depression been recognized and treated early in its course. The costs to Services for Children and Families (SCF) and the Oregon Youth Authority (OYA) are also significant, as depressed, irritable, aggressive or runaway youth may need out-of-home placement or require placement in a juvenile justice center. The costs of treating other medical illnesses related to unrecognized depression, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and suicide and homicide attempts, are enormous. In the long run, they account for significant expense through the Oregon Health Plan and private insurance. For many reasons, your legislative representatives need to understand that you want them to put mental health on full par with physical health in insurance plans. Clinical depression is a medical illness that will cause youth to have problems at home, with peers, in the classroom and/or on the job. With treatment, these problems can be eliminated.