What Depression Can Look Like In Teenagers
Depression can affect adolescents and adults alike. However, it may be a bit more difficult to recognize depression in teens, since some of the symptoms overlap with normal adolescent behaviors that can be a result of the many changes experienced during this time of life. Becoming more withdrawn or not enjoying things that they used to, for example, could be symptoms of a mental illness or perfectly normal parts of growing up. Read on to learn about how to tell if your teen’s behaviors may indicate something more than normal growing pains, like depression—which is a serious mental illness that can be managed with treatment.
Symptoms Of Depression In Teenagers
That way, you can help them seek the treatment they may need if you notice that they’re exhibiting some of the symptoms below.
Remember that according to the latest diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM) a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) requires several of these symptoms persist for at least two weeks and that the first two are experienced daily or almost daily. That’s why it may be helpful for parents to keep track of when they first start noticing these behaviors in their teenager, so they can provide this information with a mental health professional. Symptoms of clinical depression in teens may include:
Feeling sad and hopeless, or experiencing feelings of numbness and emptiness
A loss of pleasure in activities previously enjoyed
Increased irritability and anger
Isolating oneself from friends and family
Low self-esteem, extreme sensitivity to perceived criticism
Low energy and a lack of motivation to follow through on daily tasks
Changes in sleep patterns (either sleeping too much or too little)
Changes in eating patterns (either eating more or less than usual)
Problems with concentration and focus
Random aches and pains throughout the body that have no other explanation
Problems with performance or behavior in school (dropping grades, getting into fights or trouble, etc.)
Suicidal thoughts; self-harm behaviors like cutting or burning
Above all else, suicide prevention is key in this situation. If you believe that your teen may be at risk of harming themselves, please seek out help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by dialing 988, and it’s available 24/7.
Some of these depression symptoms may also be present in other mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorder. This is why diagnosis from a health professional that specializes in mental disorder is essential if you are concerned that your teen may be experiencing major depression.
In addition, looking at the list above, you can likely see why some parents may notice symptoms of depression but classify them as normal signs of growing up. For example, it’s often perfectly natural for teenagers to need more food and sleep over time. They may also start moving away from certain activities that they feel are childish or begin asking for more freedom, none of which are a cause for alarm in and of themselves. Paying attention to how long these symptoms last and whether your teen seems to be experiencing several of them can help you decide whether it’s wise to seek help for their mental health.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, some risk factors for teen depression include a family history of depression, early childhood trauma, or the home environment in which they’re raised. Overall, a child with one or more families with mental illness is more likely to have depression. Many factors can be at play, however, including the following:
Low self-esteem feelings that lead to patterns of negative thinking and learned helplessness
Having other mental health conditions
Circumstances in the teen’s life like being gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual in an unsupportive environment
What To Do If You Notice Signs Of Depression In Your Teen
Keeping an eye out for signs of depression in teens or any other mental illnesses is the first step. If you notice some, reaching out for help is typically the next. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) encourages parents to schedule an appointment with their teen’s primary care physician first in this case. Although the symptoms of depression do not always need an underlying cause, the National Institute of Mental Health advises that some depressive episodes may be triggered by a physical health condition that a doctor can find and identify.
How to treat depression in teenagers? If depression symptoms are present and there are no contributing medical problems, the next step is to meet with a mental health professional. They can evaluate your child’s mental health status and decide on a treatment plan if necessary. This may include psychotherapy, medication, or both if your child is diagnosed with adolescent depression. A specialist in adolescent psychiatry may be necessary if your doctor decides that medication is the best path forward. A mental health professional can also provide a safe space for your teenager to express and work through difficult emotions and can offer strategies for managing any symptoms of a mental illness that they may be experiencing. Your child’s doctor may be able to give you a recommendation for a nearby counselor, or you may be able to find one in your area on your own. If you cannot locate the right resources for your teenager near you or believe they’d feel more comfortable with a format that’s not in-person, you may want to consider online counseling platforms.
With an online therapy platform like TeenCounseling, for example, your child can get matched with a licensed therapist who they can meet with via phone, video call, and/or online chat once they have your consent. Some find the virtual therapy format more comfortable, and one study even found that participants felt it was easier to form a personal connection with their provider virtually than in person. Since research suggests that both in-person and online therapy offer similar benefits, you and your teen are free to choose the most comfortable method.
Does Your Teen Need Mental Health Support?
Preventing Depression In Teens
In therapy, your teenager will likely learn how to cope with symptoms of adolescent depression and how to avoid stressors that can trigger or worsen them. You can support your child by encouraging them to cultivate healthy habits that can support their mental health. For example, you can try:
Making sure that they get enough sleep on a regular basis
Reducing stress where possible, which may include helping them edit their schedule
Providing them with healthy meal options
Encouraging them to take part in more activities that make them happy
Practicing nonjudgmental, supportive listening so they know they can come to you with their problems
Encouraging them to get regular exercise, perhaps by joining a sports team or a gym
Having them spend more time with supportive friends and family
Challenging unrealistic or distorted thoughts or beliefs they may tell themselves
You can support your teen on their mental health journey in these ways, but it’s important to remember that they’ll also have to put in some effort themselves. Working through their feelings and challenging negative thoughts are key healing processes that take place mainly internally. Connecting them with the right mental health resources and encouraging when they tell their progress with you are the main tasks you can try, in addition to helping them build the healthy habits listed here.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes depression in puberty?
Can a 14-year-old have clinical depression?
What is the best treatment for adolescent depression?
Why are teens so stressed?
Is depression normal in puberty?
How do you know if your child is unhappy?
How can I help my daughter with her depression?
How do I know if my teenager needs counseling?
How do I stop my child from being depressed?
What age is most stressed?
Is school the leading cause of depression?
When should I worry about my child's depression?
How do I know if I'm emotionally neglecting my child?
Why are the teenage years so difficult?
Why is my teenager always in their room?