Signs of Teenage Depression

Depression affects millions of teenagers. While most adolescents experience sadness and bad moods now and then, depression is a serious mental health disorder that can impact every area of a teenager’s life.

Parents and teachers may mistake teen depression for rebelliousness or “acting out.” Underneath many emotional and behavioral issues is undiagnosed depression, which can lead to:

  • Skipping classes or a drop in grades
  • Running away from home
  • Substance abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Fighting or bullying
  • Self-injury or cutting
  • Shoplifting or other criminal behavior
  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Suicide

Teen depression can come in many forms, including:

  • Major Depression (Clinical Depression) — intense sadness lasting longer than two weeks, accompanied by depressed mood, irritability, loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities or other symptoms of depression
  • Dysthymia — depressed mood, less severe than major depression, that typically lasts one to two years
  • Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression) — a mood disorder characterized by extreme highs and lows in mood changes, alternating between major depression and mania
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder — depression that occurs at the same time each year during a specific season
  • Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood — depressed mood that occurs within three months of a significant life event and does not meet the criteria for major depression

Causes of Teen Depression

It doesn’t seem fair for teenagers to experience such intense feelings of sadness and despair in their young lives. Teens and their loved ones often ask, “Why me?”

Teen depression develops for a number of reasons:

  • Genetics/Family History
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Bullying
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Chronic Illness
  • Stressful Life Events
  • Hormones
  • Abuse or Trauma
  • Family Conflict or Unstable Home Environment

At particular risk for depression are adolescents with low self-esteem, who are highly critical of themselves and who feel little sense of control in their lives. Teenage girls are twice as likely as boys to report depression. For many adolescents, depression goes hand in hand with anxiety disorders, ADHD, eating disorders and other mental health disorders.

Symptoms of Teen Depression

While both adults and adolescents develop depression, their symptoms can look quite different. Whereas adults often become sad and withdrawn, teenagers are more often irritable and angry.

Is Your Teen Depressed?

Some of the most common symptoms of teenage depression include:

  • Anger or hostility
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Extreme sensitivity to criticism
  • Lack of emotion or energy
  • Changes in appetite, weight or sleep patterns
  • Self-injury
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or sadness
  • Frequent crying
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Risky behavior or acting out
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor academic performance
  • Substance abuse
  • Talking about suicide and death

It can be difficult to distinguish teen depression from normal adolescent mood swings. Ask yourself:

  • How long has your teen shown signs of depression?
  • How severe are your teen’s depression symptoms?
  • Is your teen’s behavior uncharacteristic or out of the ordinary?

Treatment For Teen Depression

Depression is a highly treatable illness, yet only 20 percent of depressed teens seek treatment. Many are embarrassed to admit their struggles and even more do not realize that they can feel better by getting help. Because they are often dependent on their parents, teachers and loved ones to recognize a problem and get treatment, many needlessly continue to suffer.

Treatment for teen depression typically includes one or more of the following approaches:

  • Physical, psychiatric and family evaluations
  • Antidepressant medications
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (to learn healthy ways to cope with negative thoughts and feelings)
  • Family therapy
  • Education about teen depression
  • Support groups
  • Physical activity and a healthy diet
  • Therapeutic wilderness program
  • Therapeutic boarding school

Because teens have different needs than adults, the adolescent’s therapist should specialize in teen depression treatment or have significant experience in treating adolescents. Most teen depression treatment programs will incorporate a strong family component to ensure that the entire family system is as healthy as possible.

Since roughly half of depressed teens are likely to experience episodes of depression in the future, it is important to seek treatment early and check in often to address any recurrent symptoms. Left untreated, depression can change who your child becomes. Treatment can make the difference between your teen fulfilling their life goals and remaining stuck in a cycle of depression.