Friday, June 08, 2007

Suburban blues: Teens, depression and anxiety

A few months back I came across a Psychology Today article about suburban teens and their relative propensity for depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Here's an excerpt:

A report from the suburbs has some surprising news about children growing up in the culture of affluence. It's a longitudinal study and the interesting finding is that the kids have a multitude of adjustment problems. The surprise is that they often have more problems than age-matched kids growing up in the inner city—and their problems persist despite the mental health services presumably available to them.

Beyond a certain point, the researchers found, the pursuit of status and material wealth by high-earning families (say, $120,000 and above) tends to leave skid marks on the kids, but in ways you might not have expected. Affluent suburban high schoolers not only smoke more, drink more, and use more hard drugs than typical high schoolers do—they do so more than a comparison group of inner-city kids. In addition, they have much higher rates of anxiety and, in general, higher rates of depression.

Among affluent suburban girls, rates of depression skyrocket—they are three times more likely than average teen girls to report clinically significant levels of depression. And for all problems, the troubles seem to start in the seventh grade. Before then, the affluent kids do well.

Interestingly, among the upper-middle-class suburban kids, but not among the inner-city kids, use of alcohol and drugs is linked with depression and anxiety. That raises the possibility that substance use is an attempt to self-medicate.

The article goes on to say that achievement pressures and emotional isolation from parents are some of the main factors. Parental career ambitions erode family togetherness, and frazzled schedules shuttling from one activity to another reinforce a performance mentality. High-income families have less parental accessibility and family time together than lower-income families. Affluent families can more easily afford mental health services and professional help for their children, but the irony is that this often merely outsources care and doesn't improve family attachments.

One antidote recommended by the article - eating dinner together most nights with at least one parent present. This single factor was the best predictor of teen adjustment and school performance. So let's spend more time together at the dinner table! Our kids' mental health may depend on it.


Unknown said...

I can't help but think that body image is also tied even tighter around the necks of these affluent teens hence the girls becoming depressed in 7th grade.

With money comes the ability to have the cloths, the nails, the activities, even the plastic surgery...but it's all empty without an inner sense of self (as it relates to being God's creation) and a knowledge that you are loved.

elderj said...

This confirms what has been my anecdotal observation through the years, and even in the experiences of people I know personally. It seems while wealth solves some problems, it causes many others. I would venture to say that one significant factor is that poor inner city families often have an abundance of social relationships that mitigate some of the issues that lead to depression.

As a side note, as a child of the inner city, I never knew any people who abused alcohol, nor was I ever pressured to do so. We used to say that those were "White people" issues