Academic journal article The Prevention Researcher

Ethnicity and Adolescent Depression: Prevalence, Access to Services, and Promising Interventions

Academic journal article The Prevention Researcher

Ethnicity and Adolescent Depression: Prevalence, Access to Services, and Promising Interventions

Article excerpt

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 4 high school students report symptoms of depression that are severe enough to affect their daily functioning (CDC, 2011). As a result of several national surveys, it has become evident that depression is more common among adolescents of ethnic minority backgrounds, who also are less likely to receive professional help for this condition (Merikangas et al., 2010). Much more research is needed to document that psychological treatments specifically designed to reduce depression work for all adolescents, including those of ethnic minority backgrounds (Huey & Polo, 2(108). In addition to presenting information about prevalence of depression and service use across ethnic groups, this article outlines several promising programs that are designed for adolescents suffering from depression and which have documented evidence of success with youth of diverse backgrounds.


Depression represents one of the most widespread, persistent, and severe problems faced by adolescents. Depressive disorders, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 2000) include Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Dysthymic Disorder (DD). Recent epidemiological data reveal that lifetime rates of these disorders almost doubles between the ages of 13 (8.4%) and 18 (15.4%) years, and it is much more prevalent among female (15.9%) than male (7.7%) adolescents (Merikangas et al., 2010). Adolescents of African American backgrounds have similar risk for mood disorders as their European American counterparts, while Latino youth are 1.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with these disorders.

Symptoms of depression among adolescents in the United States have been tracked biennially for over two decades in the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBSS). In the latest survey, conducted in 2011, more than one in four high school students reported that at some point during the 12 months prior to the survey they felt sad or hopeless for a prolonged period of time, to the point that these feelings impaired them from doing their usual activities (CDC, 2011). As can be seen from Figures 2.1 and 2.2, however, the percentages of youth with depressive symptoms varies widely across gender and ethnic groups. Consistently, more than 4 out of" every 10 Latina girls endorse these symptoms, compared to approximately 2 out of every 10 European American males (CDC, 2011). These ethnic and gender disparities are disconcerting given that they parallel previous reports of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts that require medical attention (CDC, 2011), as well as the results of a meta-analysis of the most commonly used depression symptom scale (the Children's Depression Inventory), which also found Latinos to be at a significantly higher risk (Twenge & Nolen-Hoeksema, 2002).



While the rates of depression in adolescents are high, the vast majority of adolescents who are afflicted with depression do not have access to specialty care. A recently conducted survey of a nationally representative sample of 13-17 year olds found that only 39% of adolescents with depressive disorders received mental health care at any point in their lives (Merikangas et al., 2011). The authors reported that among those with depressive disorders, Latino adolescents were 53% less likely and African American adolescents were 87% less likely than their European American counterparts to have ever received care. Similar findings were reported in a national study which examined ethnic differences in past-year mental health service use among adolescents who experienced a major depression episode (Cummings & Druss, 2011). They found that, in comparison to 39.5% of European American adolescents with depression, 31.9% of African American, 31.0% of Latino, and 18. …

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