Teen Depression

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated March 7, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide which could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is having suicidal thoughts, contact the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. Support is available 24/7. Please also see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression, anxiety, and related mental health conditions are the most common among young people and are regarded as some of the most significant causes of death in this age group. Leaving mental health conditions and symptoms untreated in teens and young adults can have lasting negative consequences into adulthood. 

For this reason, it may be beneficial for family, parents and guardians to learn to recognize the symptoms of depression in teens so they can take action if they start to notice them.

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How common is teen depression today?

How many teens have depression?

According to a report from Mental Health America, about 15% of youth aged 12 to 17 experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2022. This figure represents an increase of 1.24%, or about 300,000 people, compared to 2021.

The study indicates that depression can be a common condition experienced by adolescents and that depression may be something a number of teens experience.

In a world where teenagers are often raised with the pressures of social media, school, and constant connectedness, mental health conditions like teen depression, anxiety, mood disorders like bipolar disorder, and other mental disorders are increasing in prevalence.

Causes and risk factors

Researchers believe that teen depression is caused by various factors. Depression is considered 40-50% hereditary. Stressful life events might also contribute to depression, such as experiencing the loss of a loved one or a parental divorce. Teenagers may also face stressors such as academic responsibility, an overwhelming schedule, bullying, or fears about the future.

Additionally, many adolescents experiencing teen depression might not be receiving education about coping with stress or challenging emotions. A teen may struggle to recognize symptoms of mental health challenges as they arise and not know that support and treatment are available. 

As a result, some teenagers suppress emotions or turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or drugs, which can exacerbate mental health issues. Education and mental health care from professionals trained in child and teen treatment may be a part of preventing teen depression.

Symptoms

Detecting whether your teen may be showing signs of depression can be difficult. Teen depression has similar symptoms to adult depression. However, adolescence is often a turbulent time where a variety of significant changes may happen in a young person’s life that can lead to behavioral and mood changes that may be average for their age group. For example, starting to sleep regularly and eat more than before may not be uncommon for growing teenagers, even though these can also be symptoms of depression.

To be sure, pay attention to whether your teen experiences multiple potential symptoms of depression for two weeks or more and whether these symptoms start interfering with their day-to-day functioning. In this case, you may want to seek professional support or treatment for your teen. 

Common symptoms of teen depression include: 

  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities 

  • Withdrawing from friends and family

  • Slipping grades

  • Prolonged feelings of sadness or hopelessness

  • Poor appetite or excessive eating

  • Poor sleep or excessive sleeping

  • Physical health problems like frequent headaches or stomach aches
  • Trouble focusing or making decisions

  • Increased irritability

  • Lethargy or restlessness

  • Self-harming behaviors like cutting or burning

  • Suicidal thoughts or frequently talking about death*

If your child is displaying either of the last two symptoms on the list, seek help as soon as possible. A mental health professional specializing in adolescents may offer a long-term treatment plan. You can find guidance from a licensed professional on how to treat depression in teenagers.

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Seeking help for your child

If you’ve noticed signs of depression in teens, consider reaching out for professional help. Even if a mental health professional evaluates them and does not diagnose them with teen depression, therapy can still be a valuable method for sorting through emotions, organizing responsibilities, and learning healthy adult coping techniques. Therapy can be beneficial for those experiencing a mental health condition and anyone who wants support in developing or maintaining mental health in general.

Mental health issues in teens are serious. Suicide and homicide are the second cause of death in teens, behind accidents. Teen depression can be a severe mental health condition and may not resolve independently without treatment. Try not to use phrases like “snap out of it” or “think positively” to try to change their situation. Instead, seeking the help of a mental health professional is often recommended. 

Mental health professionals

A qualified mental health provider may be able to evaluate your child and their unique symptoms and decide on the most effective course of action. Often, however, teen depression is treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be suggested for those experiencing this condition. The therapy modality focuses on challenging negative thoughts and behavioral patterns and can help your teen understand the causes of their behaviors. They can also learn to implement strategies for improving their mood and daily functioning.

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Finding a therapist

Suppose you believe your teen may have depression or could otherwise benefit from connecting with a mental health professional. In that case, you can search for one in your area who specializes in adolescent care. 

If you’re having difficulty locating a provider in your town or city, or if your teen would prefer to speak with a therapist virtually, you can also consider online therapy. Research suggests that it offers similar benefits to in-person therapy and that online CBT, in particular, may be more effective than in-person treatment for teen depression. 

BetterHelp online therapy

With an online therapy platform like TeenCounseling, your child can get matched with a therapist and meet via phone, video call, or online chat sessions. If you need support as a teenager’s parent, you can also seek online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp.

Takeaway

A mental health condition like depression may not resolve on its own. If you notice signs of depression in your teenager, consider meeting with a mental health professional for evaluation and treatment.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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