Understanding A Teen Depression Test

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated May 15, 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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Depression is relatively prevalent among adolescents today. According to a 2022 report from Mental Health America, 10.6% of youth (over 2.5 million individuals) cope with severe major depression. The report also goes on to state that this number has increased by almost 200,000 since the previous year. Given statistics like these, it isn’t surprising that effectively identifying and treating depression in teens has become a more pressing topic for parents, guardians, and mental health professionals. One of the tools that can help identify whether an adolescent may be experiencing this mental health disorder is a teen depression test.

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Teens and adults experience depression differently

What is a teen depression test?

A depression screening is a tool designed to help determine whether an individual might be experiencing a depressive disorder. This test can provide information on the severity, frequency, and types of depressive symptoms a teenager is experiencing. It’s important to note that only a qualified mental health professional can provide an official diagnosis. However, the goal is simply to indicate whether the teen may need to meet with a professional for this reason. Adolescent depression tests are generally free and can be taken online as well as informally administered during a doctor’s visit. Signs of depression in teenagers lead to breakdowns, and if not addressed, they can lead to severe conditions later on.

A common teen depression assessment is the 6-ITEM Kutcher Adolescent Depression Scale, which includes questions with response options that relate to how frequently a certain symptom is experienced by the teen. For instance, most measure on a scale of “rarely” to “frequently”. The questions included usually refer to a teenager’s mood, sleeping habits, feelings about previously enjoyable activities, and perceptions of others. Variables such as gender and age are also considered when calculating a score on the scale. 

Validity of teen depression tests

Teen depression assessments are more likely to be accurate if they come from a verified mental health organization or other reputable sources. Their accuracy also depends heavily on the honesty of the answers given.

A teen needs to answer all questions with truthfulness and transparency to get a meaningful result. To make your child more comfortable in giving honest responses, it can be helpful to provide them with a quiet space in which to take the assessment. Otherwise, they may be concerned about judgments or worries from their parents in response to the answers they provide. As long as these two parameters are met, the test is likely to be fairly accurate in recommending whether the young person may need professional attention for their mental health concerns.

What if my teen has depression?

If the results of your child’s assessment indicate that they are experiencing symptoms of this mental health disorder, help is available. First, you may want to make an appointment with their doctor. They can run tests to determine if any underlying physical issues may be contributing to the symptoms your child is experiencing. These may include blood tests for conditions like thyroid problems, for instance, which can affect mood and behavior. 

Next, it’s usually recommended that your teen also meets with a mental health professional like a therapist or psychiatrist, whether you get a referral from your doctor, find one through your health insurance, or seek out one on your own. A mental health provider can speak with your child to get to know more about the symptoms they’re experiencing and the stressors they’re facing. From there, they may issue a diagnosis and then devise a treatment plan that may consist of psychotherapy alone or in addition to medication. With the right tools, knowledge, and the support of a qualified mental health professional, managing symptoms of depression and regaining good mental health care is possible for your child.

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Is depression different in teens than in adults?

Depression symptoms may manifest somewhat differently in teens than in adults. For instance, depressed teens may experience disruptions in sleeping patterns. However, they’ll still usually get more sleep than adults with the condition, who are more prone to insomnia. Another example is that adults are more likely to exhibit sad, withdrawn behavior when experiencing depression, while many teens tend to exhibit irritability and anger instead.

Some potential warning signs of depression in teens can include:

  • spontaneous, inexplicable expressions of sadness, such as crying 
  • feelings of irritability, frustration, and anger
  • Mood swings
  • intense negative thoughts of hopelessness and worthlessness
  • a need to be reassured often; self-esteem issues
  • excessive self-criticism
  • trouble making decisions and an inability to concentrate
  • problems in school
  • changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • self-isolation with a loss of interest and pleasure in usual activities
  • a lack of hygiene
  • using drugs or alcohol
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Potential causes of teen depression

The exact causes of depression in general aren’t fully understood, but researchers have identified certain factors that may contribute. These factors can vary widely. First, teenagers can have a genetic predisposition. It can be important to be aware of a family history of mental health concerns like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. A physical health problem may also cause depression in teens. They may also experience this disorder in part because of common life circumstances or challenges during the teen years such as peer pressure, changes in body chemistry, academic pressures, family problems, problems with self-esteem, bullying, (in person or through social media), and more. 

Teen depression is sometimes overlooked or minimized because the challenges that teenagers face are often labeled as a “phase”. In reality, this isn’t something that typically goes away on its own, nor is it something that one can overcome with willpower. It’s a mental health disorder that requires long-term treatment, and that may have serious ramifications if left untreated. When depression overwhelms to a point where a teen feels hopeless, they can come to grief. Be vigilant for signs of severe depression, and contact the suicide prevention hotline if you suspect that they are having thoughts of self-harm.

iStock/SeventyFour
Teens and adults experience depression differently

Treating depression in teenagers

As mentioned above, meeting with a mental health professional who specializes in adolescents is a common form of treatment for teenagers with depression. This meeting may occur in person at the therapist’s office or online. If your teenager prefers to meet with a provider online, a virtual therapy platform like TeenCounseling can connect clients between the ages of 13 and 18 with an online therapist whom they can speak with from the comfort of home. In addition to offering greater availability and convenience, research suggests that online therapy is as effective as in-person sessions for treating teens with depression and other mental health conditions.

Whether it happens in person or virtually, the provider needs to cultivate a relationship of trust and reassurance. After this relationship is established, your teen’s therapist will likely determine a course of treatment to manage symptoms based on their assessment. While there are many treatment options for adolescent depression, the most common include one or more of the following:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) - CBT is the most recommended treatment for adolescent depression. It involves using talk therapy to shift flawed thought patterns that are causing distressing emotions and behaviors. CBT treatment plans usually last anywhere from six to 16 weeks. 
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) - IPT focuses on the individual’s relationships with others. Therapists who practice it aim to teach their clients how to communicate their emotions, thoughts and needs more effectively with those around them so they can cultivate healthier relationships. The average IPT treatment plan consists of 12–16 weekly sessions.
  • Medication - Although medications are commonly prescribed for adult depression, doctors prescribe them less often for kids and adolescents—in part because there is less clinical evidence to support their efficacy in younger people. Also, adherence to a medication regimen may pose a challenge for adolescents, and parents or guardians often have concerns about the risk that certain medications may have an impact on a young person’s physiological development. Medication side effects are often different for adolescents than adults. For some, the side effects may worsen depression symptoms. If your teen does take medication for depression, they should be monitored closely by a psychiatrist for side effects and efficacy. 

Takeaway

As a parent, if you sense your teen is hurting or may be experiencing symptoms of depression disorder—whether they’re verified through teen depression tests or not—seeking treatment is usually essential. Connecting with a mental health professional in person or online is typically a helpful first step.
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