Am I Depressed Or Is It Just A Phase?

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated May 13, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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Being a teenager can involve a lot of ups and downs, and it can often be difficult to determine whether a teen's mood swings and fluctuating emotions are just a typical part of adolescence or if they could be a sign of depression. This can be troubling, as ignoring signs of depression and leaving it untreated can be dangerous. Here, we'll explore several possible signs of teen depression, as well as a few options for support. 

Getty/Xavier Lorenzo
Depression can feel isolating but help is available

Teen depression

Teen depression is a serious condition that can involve a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities. While depression can affect people at any age, symptoms in teens may differ slightly from those in adults. 

Signs and symptoms of teen depression

Some of the possible signs that a teen may be experiencing depression include, but are not limited to:

  • Sadness or hopelessness

  • Irritability, anger, or hostility

  • Tearfulness or frequent crying

  • Withdrawal from friends and family

  • Loss of interest in activities

  • Poor school performance

  • Substantial weight gain or weight loss

  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits

  • Restlessness and agitation

  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt

  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation

  • Fatigue or lack of energy

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Unexplained aches and pains

  • Drug or substance misuse

  • Thoughts of death or suicide*

  • Engaging in self-harm behaviors

Why is teen depression sometimes hard to spot?

What can make depression harder to spot in teenagers is that teens may show some of these signs due to the moodiness that can be common in the teenage years rather than due to depression. For example, some parents can attest that restricting social interaction with friends as a punishment for a bad grade can sometimes send some teens into rage, tears, and sadness. 

If outbursts a teen's outbursts are generally short-lived, it may not be depression. Teens without depression typically bounce back and recover from the outburst quickly. However, if this type of behavior occurs frequently and without cause, it can be a sign of deeper concerns that may benefit from therapeutic treatment.

Factors at play in teen mental health

Many factors may be at play when it comes to teen depression or other mental illness. 

  • Family Issues: Issues with family life, family, and parental relationships could be significant stressors in a teen's life. 

  • Social And Academic Pressures: Many teens have to balance a lot of responsibilities and pressures related to academic, extracurricular, and social factors. 

  • Social Media Exposure: Current research shows constant social media attention could exacerbate existing mental health problems.  

  • Socioeconomic Factors: Others point out that race, class, and income may play a role because they likely impact communities' reach to care and treatment for mental and physical health issues. 

  • Cyber Bullying: In recent years, cyberbullying has become increasingly prevalent among teens, and experiencing cyberbullying may put a child at greater risk of self-harm. 

Being a teen can be frightening sometimes. For many, it's a time full of changes, peer pressure, school stress, social issues, and more. 

Getty/MoMo Productions

Teens’ resiliency and social support

Some teens may be more resilient than others and seem to bounce back, even after major setbacks like losing a parent or other loved one, while others may benefit from some outside help or mental health treatment. 

A substantial amount of research has shown that when teens turn toward social support activities and more positive interactions with others when stressful events arise, they are more resilient and adept at coping.

Research also suggests that the ability to reach out and externalize feelings may help reduce factors leading to depression, such as stress or the risk of substance abuse. If teens cannot talk to their parents or their teachers, then finding other supportive outlets can be especially important. 

Parents may or may not realize their role in their child's mental health. But, in fact, some research suggests there is a link between parental discipline and teenage depression: one such study found that parents' harsh verbal discipline predicted an increase in adolescent depressive symptoms

Depression can feel isolating but help is available

Help is available

The teenage years can be challenging—both for the teenager and the parents. For additional support in navigating these challenges, online therapy can help. Parents and teenagers often have incredibly busy schedules, and since online therapy can be done anywhere with an internet connection, it can often be easier to make time for it. And, since many teenagers spend a lot of time online, connecting with a therapist virtually may also feel especially comfortable for them. If your teenager is experiencing depression or other challenges, you can seek online counseling

Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy for a range of concerns, including depression in adolescents. For instance, one such study conducted an overview of online therapies used to treat children and adolescents with depression and/or anxiety. The researchers found that "there is an increasing body of evidence that supports the use of computers and the Internet in the provision of interventions for depression and anxiety in children and adolescents."

Below are some reviews of TeenCounseling and BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar concerns:

"I have been working with Tina for almost 7 months. And those 7 months were the hardest I had in years. With Tinas guidance and wisdom I found out things about me I have put deep down and tried to forget about. I learned skills to help me and calm my anxiety and depression. I honestly couldn't have gone this far this year or even made it. I want to say thank you for listening to me and being the only person for a while that believed me."

"Sara came into my daughter's life when she was at her lowest and helped her work through depression. She is kind and caring and a true blessing for our family." 


The teenage years often involve many ups and downs and mood swings, which can sometimes make it difficult to determine whether what a teen is experiencing is a common part of adolescence or something more serious, like depression. Becoming familiar with some of the common signs and symptoms of teen depression can be helpful for deciphering what's going on, and for additional support for yourself or your teen, online therapy can help.
Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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