Anyone, at any age, can be affected by depression. And although we tend to associate childhood and teenage years with happiness, fun, and being carefree, it is crucial to remember that even kids and teens can become afflicted with depression. In this article, we’ll take a look at the signs of depression in teenage children, so that parents and caregivers can learn to spot the symptoms early and intervene in a timely manner.
Teenage Depression Facts
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 10% of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 experience depression.1
Early onset of depression is a strong predictor of being affected by depression as an adult.2 So it is particularly important not to dismiss symptoms of depression in teens as “teenage behavior” or attribute it to growing pains.
Parents should be able to talk openly about depression with their child and, most importantly, seek help when needed. With early intervention and consistent treatment, teens can reduce their likelihood of experiencing more severe symptoms of depression in adulthood and attain a better quality of life overall.
Causes Of Depression In Teens
As with anyone else, there is no single factor that causes depression in teenagers. Depression is a result of a complex interaction of biological, social, and psychological factors.3 The chemistry of a teenage child’s brain, their hormones, and genetic makeup all play a role in determining if they are likely to become depressed.
Other factors such as loss of a loved one, exposure to stress, drug and alcohol abuse, smoking, physical/sexual abuse, parental neglect, anxiety disorder, PTSD, and some prescription medications can also put a teenager at risk for developing depression.4 Children and teens who experience stress or loss, or who have learning, attention-related, or anxiety disorders also have a higher risk of experiencing depression, as do teens with a family history of depression.5
Signs And Symptoms Of Depression in Teens
It can be tricky to spot the symptoms of depression in teenagers because being withdrawn, irritable, moody, or sad comes with the territory of being a teenager. But depression is not the same as regular crankiness, irritability, or sadness. These tend to go away within a short period of time. Depression, on the other hand, is an intense feeling of sadness, frustration, and hopelessness that can make it difficult for your teen to get out of bed, focus and function in school, and participate in regular activities, including hanging out with friends. If you see these signs, ask yourself how long your teen’s been showing them and how intense they are. This will be clue enough to get an expert opinion.
According to medical experts, a teen will be diagnosed with depression if they demonstrate a persistent feeling of sadness and/or a loss of interest in their favorite hobbies/activities for the majority of the day, on most days of the week, within a span of two weeks.6
Feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, and frustration and anger are among the most common symptoms of depression among teenagers.7 In addition, teens who are depressed may also exhibit some or all of the following symptoms:
- Feeling helpless and/or hopeless
- Frequent crying or tearfulness
- Drastic change in appetite and unintended weight gain or loss
- Experiencing social withdrawal
- Poor performance in school
- Frequent complaints about stomach aches and headaches
- Excessive sleep or trouble falling/staying asleep
- Feeling restless, agitated, and/or being unable to sit still
- Struggling with concentration, focus, memory, and decision-making
- Feeling guilty/inadequate/worthless and having low self-esteem
- Increased sensitivity/reaction to rejection and failure
- Feeling unmotivated, exhausted, and lacking energy
- Thinking about self-harm, death, and suicide8 9
Also watch closely for teenage suicide warning signs which may include:
- Talking about suicide, even as a joke.
- Saying things like “I am better off dead” or “I wish I was gone forever.”
- Romanticizing death by saying things like “people would love me more and/or give me more attention if I were dead” or writing poems/stories about death.
- Demonstrating reckless behavior.
- Giving away prized possessions.
- Saying goodbye to friends and family in a “final” way.10
Dos And Don’ts If You See Signs Of Depression In Your Teen
- Don’t ignore depression-like and/or suicidal comments, even casual ones, and don’t dismiss their symptoms by attributing them to “typical teen behavior.”
- Do talk to your teenager openly and honestly, and mention your concerns in a loving and non-judgmental manner.
- Do let it be known that you’re willing to help them in any way they need.
- Do not be patronizing and resist the urge to admonish or lecture.
- Don’t minimize their feelings by saying they are being silly or say things like “oh, it’s not THAT bad.”
Different Kids, Different Signs
As parents and caregivers, you must know that not all teens experience depression in the same way. Even a teen who does not always seem sad can have depression so it is important to be vigilant and observe changes in behavior, mood, and actions that are unique to your teen. It is vital to remind your teen that depression is a real illness just like any physical illness and that there’s no shame in seeking medical help. It also helps them to know that being depressed isn’t their fault and that they haven’t done anything wrong.
Act On Warning Signs Of Depression – Promptly
Depression is highly treatable with therapy and/or medication so parents must be quick to seek help. It is very important that teens experiencing depression receive prompt treatment from a mental health professional. If left untreated, depression in teens can worsen with time and eventually become life-threatening.
If you suspect that your teenager is depressed, discuss it with his/her pediatrician and seek a referral for a child/adolescent psychologist or psychiatrist who will then conduct a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation. This may include an assessment of your teen’s overall health, medical history, current behaviors and symptoms, environmental factors at home and school, family dynamics, and input from teachers.
Treatment for depressed teens may include a combination of:
- Interpersonal Therapy: Aimed at helping your teen cope with relationship stressors, manage mood, improve communication skills, and social interaction skills.
- Cognitive-behavioral Therapy: Aimed at changing your teen’s possibly distorted views about themselves and/or the world.
- Family Therapy: Addresses family dynamics and stressors that may be contributing to your teen’s depression.
- Medication: Antidepressant medications are highly effective in treating depression, especially when used consistently and in combination with therapy.11
With prompt treatment done early and effectively, most teenagers will see an improvement in their symptoms, and many will experience a complete resolution. As a parent, urge your teen to be patient because it takes time to see an improvement in symptoms. Also encourage your teen to be good to themselves. This means exercising regularly, getting good sleep, spending some time outdoors, and eating nutritious food. It is also important for them to spend time with supportive friends and family members who encourage communication and expression without judgment.12
|↑1, ↑2, ↑6, ↑8||Major Depression in Children. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.|
|↑3||Depression. World Health Organization.|
|↑4||CHILDHOOD DEPRESSION. CASA of Arizona.|
|↑5||Depression in Children and Teens. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.|
|↑7, ↑9||Teen Depression. The National Institute of Mental Health.|
|↑10||Parent’s Guide to Teen Depression. Helpguide.|
|↑11||Major Depression in Children. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.|
|↑12||Teen Depression. The National Institute of Mental Health.|