Is It Normal To Have Depression In High School?

Medically reviewed by Lauren Fawley , LPC
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 a common mental disorder that causes severe symptoms which can impact daily activities such as sleeping, eating, working, and studying. Just how common is the disorder? According to the World Health Organization, it impacts approximately 280 million people worldwide, including children, teens, and adults. In 2021 alone, the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 5 million teens in the United States reported depressive symptoms. From mild depression to severe depression, symptoms can be serious and may require treatment to be managed. 

Depression can impact both your mental and physical health, making it difficult to complete day-to-day tasks. It can also lead to suicide, which is the fourth leading cause of death in people 15-29 years old. It’s a leading cause of disability worldwide, and statistics show that it’s a large factor in the overall global burden of disease.

For adolescents experiencing depression in high school, social relationships, schoolwork, and transitioning into adulthood can feel overwhelming. However, there are ways to handle mental health challenges and find support for your medical condition. Depression is fairly common and highly treatable, and you are not alone. 

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Reaching out for support can be brave

What are the symptoms of depression in teenagers?

Symptoms of depression in teens can be similar to those in adults. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, commonly reported signs and symptoms of a depressive disorder include: 

  • Feeling down or experiencing sadness that lasts at least two weeks

  • Irritability or anger outbursts

  • Insomnia or sleeping more than usual 

  • Changes in weight or appetite

  • Self-esteem issues

  • Self-harming behaviors

  • Feeling fatigued or tired 

  • Hopelessness or worthlessness

  • Not feeling interested in previously enjoyed activities

  • Isolating from family or friends

  • Skipping school or classes

  • Difficulty concentrating 

  • Feeling guilty for no identifiable reason 

  • Feeling numb 

  • Substance abuse

  • Suicidal thoughts or urges*

Teen depression may cause challenges during school, after-school programs, or within the family. During a depressive episode, a teen may struggle to complete assignments or seem withdrawn from school activities, such as sports, clubs, or dances. They may experience a combination of mental, emotional, and physical symptoms. This is not an exhaustive list— other symptoms may present during a depressive episode– so it’s always best to reach out to an adult if you’re concerned about how you’ve been feeling.

Is it normal to have depression in high school?

Although depression is not uncommon, experiencing clinical depression is not a normal part of development.  If you're an adolescent, you may experience distressing symptoms and wonder if something is wrong. Talking to your parents, school counselors, or therapist about these feelings can be essential in managing a depressed mood. Many schools offer counseling groups, accommodations, and resources for teens experiencing depression. 

Causes of teenage depression

There are several potential contributing factors that can increase the chance that an adolescent or adult may experience depression. Risk factors include a mixture of biological and environmental factors, such as the following.

Transitions

Adolescence is often a stage of life full of changes and transitional periods. Teens may go through puberty, explore sexuality and gender, learn more about their romantic interests, attend school, and start planning for adult life. 

The switch from childhood to adolescence can be challenging. Hormone levels are often higher during puberty, and your body may start changing in confusing ways. Studies indicate that puberty in those assigned female at birth can cause an elevated risk of depression. Additionally, hormones like estrogen and testosterone can cause mood changes as they increase in your body. 

Commonly reported stressful events for adolescents may include: 

  • Demands of school and work 

  • Parental divorce or separation

  • Moving homes, cities, states, or countries

  • Financial stress in the family

  • Social conflicts with friends at school 

  • Self-esteem and body issues

  • High expectations or too many extracurricular activities

  • Illness or illness in the family

  • World events

  • Social media expectations 

  • Planning for college or adult life 

  • Homelessness or living in a group home 

  • Hospitalization for mental health 

  • Childhood trauma or abuse*

Getty/MoMo Productions

Social media and body image

Social media often exposes users to a significant level of marketing and media. This media may showcase specific beauty standards, utilize heavy editing, and market toward a particular audience. 

In 2021, the University of Twente conducted a study on teens using the social media platform TikTok. The study found that the app and the media contained in it had profoundly harmful impacts on the mental health and body image of teens. 

In another recent study on social media and adolescence, researchers found that 95% of teen girls report seeing negative comments related to beauty standards and body image through comments, videos, photos, and posts. 72% of those girls witnessed this weekly. 

Body image issues may be a significant factor in depression or other mental disorders or mood disorders, such as eating disorders. As a parent, limiting children's social media usage can be beneficial in helping to prevent depression. As a teen, following accounts that promote body positivity and self-love may be a valuable way to safeguard your mental health. 

Family dysfunction 

Teens experiencing stress or traumatic events in the family may struggle with mental health. A recent PubMed study showed that teens living in a hostile or dysfunctional family environment were more likely to develop depression and that parent-child relationships can influence mental health.

Bullying

Bullying has a direct correlation with depression and mental health issues. In some of the most recent details available from the National Institute for Mental Health, it’s asserted that more than 20% of middle and high school students experience traditional bullying during the school year. Bullying prevention in schools and communities can be essential for the health of young kids and adolescents. 

If you're a teen experiencing bullying at school or in your social circle, reach out for support. The Teens Against Bullying site has a list of resources for adolescents being bullied and those who want to speak up against bullying at their schools. 

Genetics

Depression can be a hereditary disorder. Scientists estimate that depression has a hereditary rate of 40-50%. If a close biological family has a history of depression, you could be more at risk for experiencing depression. However, depression is treatable, and there are methods of getting support. 

Substance use

According to Mental Health America, substance abuse and depression can be involved in a reciprocal relationship where one leads to the other. Mood disorders– such as depression and bipolar disorder– may often co-occur with substance use disorders.

How to get support for high school depression

There are several options for teens experiencing symptoms of depression to try to find support. 

Talk to your caregiver

Before talking to a parent or caregiver, ensure you are in a safe location and are not at risk of abuse or maltreatment. If this individual is unaware of your mental health symptoms, ask them if you can talk about what is going on in your life as well as treatment possibilities. 

Be as open as possible about what you're experiencing with your depression. If you struggle to remember, write a list of your depressive symptoms and bring it to the conversation. If you're hoping to receive support or treatment, consider asking if you can attend therapy or talk to your doctor about antidepressant medication. 

Consider imparting a depression resources guide for parents. If your primary caregiver is not familiar with the condition, they may want to do some reading to understand your concerns further or reach out to healthcare providers who can provide more information.

Reach out to your school counselor

If you feel unsafe or are unable to discuss your concerns with a parent or caregiver, you might also reach out to a school counselor to talk about your symptoms of depression. They may have a brochure, book, or website for you to check out for further information or other resources to refer you to.  

Your school counselor may advocate for you to your caregiver and support you in finding community resources for your symptoms. In some cases, mental health support groups or accommodations may be available to you at school. 

If you feel an urge to self-harm or have suicidal thoughts at school, ask your teacher if you can visit your guidance counselor. Let the counselor know what you're experiencing, and they can reach out to the proper services for you. 

If you feel unsafe at home, communicate this to your counselor. Depending on the situation, they might ask you questions about your caregivers and any potential maltreatment and may contact government resources on your behalf. Your counselor is available to support you and keep you safe.  

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Reaching out for support can be brave

Ask for treatment

If you feel safe doing so, the National Institute of Mental Health suggests that you talk to your parents about treatment for depression. Common therapy modalities used for teens include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), talk therapy, and humanistic therapy. 

In some cases, depression in teens is treated using antidepressant medications. A medical doctor or psychiatrist will often prescribe these depending on your symptoms and other treatment possibilities. 

It can be normal and okay to take antidepressants in high school. If you require medication to feel happy, content, or productive as a teen, there is nothing wrong with you. Therapy is also a commonly used treatment method for major depression, and in 2019 alone, over 4 million children and teens utilized therapy or counseling services for a mental health condition such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. 

Teenage life can come with several challenges and transitions. If you feel too busy to attend treatment in person, ask your parents about trying online therapy. Research shows that online counseling for teens with depression and anxiety is as effective as traditional in-person counseling. 

For those under 18, an online counseling platform like TeenCounseling can be beneficial. For those over 18, BetterHelp offers similar services, with a growing knowledge of licensed mental health professionals. 

Takeaway

Experiencing depression in high school may be challenging for teens. If you're an adolescent with symptoms of depression, reach out for support as soon as possible. School counselors, doctors, psychiatrists, and therapists can be beneficial resources for youth. Ask your parent or primary caregiver if you can sign up for treatment. Major depressive disorder doesn’t have to define your teen years.
Learn to cope with the challenges of adolescence
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