Depression In Teens: How To Recognize Symptoms, Seek Treatment, And Prevent Teen Depression

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Debra Halseth, LCSW

Teen angst and hormonal changes are often associated with the shifts in mood that teenagers may be going through during adolescence. For example, many believe that behaviors like lashing out, becoming more withdrawn (or looking to be more independent), or not enjoying the things that they used to are all part of being a teen. While this may be true for some teenagers, others may be having trouble coping with the stresses in their daily lives. Sometimes, these changes in mood can actually be indicative of a mental health disorder like depression.

For concerned parents, the question may often be, how can I spot depression in teens and get them the help they need? Fortunately, depression (once identified) is treatable and manageable with the right support. If you have a child that may have the disorder, here is a guide on how you can recognize symptoms, seek out treatment, and prevent teen depression.

Depression in Teens: What Does It Look Like?

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Teens are faced with a unique set of challenges as they grow and develop. These situations, like forming friendships, navigating puberty, and figuring out who they want to become, are just a few of the stressors that they may have in their lives. For some, navigating these challenges can be easy. For others, they may feel immense pressure from these changes. As a result, teens may go through a whirlwind of different emotions during this new stage of their lives.

With that in mind, there is a major difference between temporary moods and depression. Feelings like sadness and anger come and go. Depression, however, can have a major impact on your teen’s mood for a significant amount of time (depending on the type of experience they may have). The first step in noticing these symptoms begins with exactly what to look for.

Symptoms of Teen Depression              

Depression in teens is much like depression in older populations, with the exception of some symptoms that will impact the lives of teens differently. Common depression symptoms to look for include:

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or helpless (or feelings of numbness and emptiness)
  • Increased irritability and anger, which may result in more lashing out
  • Increased anxiety
  • Withdrawn behavior and isolating oneself away from friends and family
  • A lack of pleasure in activities previously enjoyed
  • Low energy and no motivation to follow through on daily tasks and actions
  • Slower speech and movements (or issues feeling restless or staying still)
  • Changes in sleep patterns, either sleeping too much or too little
  • Changes in eating patterns, either eating more or eating less than usual
  • Problems with concentration and focus
  • Random aches and pains throughout the body that do not have a logical explanation and may not be treated by traditional treatment methods
  • Problems with performance or behavior in school (dropping grades, getting into fights or trouble, etc.)
  • An obsession with death or suicide and self-harm behaviors like cutting or burning (if you believe that your teen may be at risk of harming themselves, please seek out help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255, and it is available 24 hours every day.)

As you can see from the above, it can be easy to see why some parents may see symptoms of depression and associate them with growing up. For example, it can be perfectly natural for teenagers to need more food and sleep as they grow and develop. They may also start moving away from certain activities that they feel are childish or begin asking for more freedom.

What is important to remember is that, when the symptoms above are experienced together, this is when a mental illness may be at play. For example, if your teen is showing emotional changes in addition to some of these physical changes, it could be depression. However, it is also important to note that not everyone will experience all the symptoms of depression. Some teens may only exhibit a few choice symptoms. You should also be on the lookout for co-existing disorders or issues. These may include anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, or body dysmorphia, just to name a few.

Overall, it can be concerning as a parent to see these kinds of changes in your teen. However, once you know how to see the warning signs, you are in a better position to help them get the help they need. If you see any of these depression symptoms, let’s take a look at what you should do next.

What You Can Do to Get Help

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Staying vigilant is the first step. The next step? Once you’ve identified depression symptoms in your teen, you will want to reach out for help so that you can receive treatment and support for your child.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) encourages teens and parents to schedule an appointment with their primary care physician first. Although the symptoms of depression do not always need an underlying cause, some depressive episodes may be triggered by a health condition that a doctor will be able to find and identify. If depression symptoms are present and there are no contributing medical problems, the next step will be meeting with a therapist.

Depression symptoms may be able to be recognized on their own. However, it’s always important to receive an official diagnosis from a medical health professional before any action is taken. Your doctor may be able to give you a recommendation for a nearby counselor or you may find one in your area. If you are unable to find the right resources for your teen near you, you may want to consider online counseling platforms.

BetterHelp is an online counseling platform dedicated to helping those in need to connect with certified counselors. Being able to speak with a counselor from your own home, on a schedule that works best for you and your child, can be a major benefit. Additionally, if you find that one counselor may not be the best fit for the two of you, you won’t have to travel in order to find another one.

If your teen does not respond to therapy on its own, medication may also be recommended as a form of treatment to help stabilize their mood and overcome depression symptoms. Once you have the right treatment plan and your teen begins experiencing relief from their symptoms, the next step is prevention!

Moving Forward: Tips for Preventing Teen Depression

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A lot of what your teen may learn in therapy is how to cope with their depression and stressors that can lead to depression. One way to help your teen is to learn these coping mechanisms as well so that they can implement these tips better. Here are some of the tips you can use to help your teen cope with and prevent your depression.

  • Making sure that your teen is getting enough sleep on a regular basis
  • Reducing stress where possible, whether that means figuring out how to better manage their current workload or eliminate tasks that are causing stress
  • Providing your teen with healthier meal options
  • Making sure your teen is taking part in more activities that make them happy
  • Helping your teen get regular exercise, whether you decide to do something as basic as taking a walk every morning or going to the gym (you can also encourage your teen to sign up for a sport that they enjoy)
  • Having your teen spend more time with friends and family
  • Being supportive and allowing them to vent about their problems if something is bothering them
  • Challenging any unrealistic or distorted thoughts or beliefs

While these are some of the things you can do to help your teen, it is important to know that they will have to do some of the work themselves. Working through their feelings and challenging negative thoughts is a process that takes place internally. However, the habits that they cultivate during their teenage years are something that you can absolutely help out with.

Self-help and self-care will make it easier for your teen to navigate their depression symptoms. Additionally, it will help them to build habits that will allow them to reduce the impact of depression in the future. Once they know how to better care for themselves when teen depression strikes, they will be able to handle depression symptoms if they appear down the road as well.

There is a major difference between teen behavior associated with puberty and behavior associated with depression. Whether you have an adolescent that has been exhibiting concerning behaviors or you want to plan for the future, using the guide above will help you understand what teen depression looks like, what you can do to help your teen, and how you can prevent depression relapses in the future. When in doubt, it is recommended to speak with a licensed mental health care professional.


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