How To Manage Depression Symptoms And Find Support As A Teen

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated April 27, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 264 million people face depression worldwide. Teen statistics through the same source show that 13.3% of those aged 12-17 in the United States have experienced at least one major depressive episode. 

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Depressive disorders and symptoms

Depressive disorders are a group of mental health conditions that anyone may experience. Depression can impact anyone of any age, gender, social status, or background. There are several factors that may contribute to a higher risk for this condition, including having a family that also experiences depression, childhood trauma, family challenges, or drug use. However, many experience depression without involvement of any of these factors. 

The condition may accompany physical, emotional, social, and psychological symptoms, along with cognitive distortions and distressing behavioral patterns. Common symptoms of depression can include the following: 

  • A low or irritable mood
  • A loss of interest in activities one would typically enjoy
  • Isolation from others or social withdrawal
  • Turning to substance use (drugs or alcohol) to manage symptoms 
  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, or disproportionate guilt
  • Sleep disturbance in the form of insomnia (sleeping too little) or hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
  • Trouble concentrating or focusing
  • Changes in appetite leading to weight gain or weight loss
  • Tiredness and fatigue

Slowed motor activity, restlessness, excessive crying, and other symptoms may be present in those experiencing depression. Depression can be situational in some cases. However, most depressive disorders are long-term, lasting two months or more. 

There are several depressive disorders, and people experience them in different ways. See a medical or mental health professional qualified to treat mental health conditions to receive a formal diagnosis and start relieving your symptoms. 

If you're feeling depressed regularly, discussing your symptoms with a healthcare professional can be crucial in learning how to address them. If you are a teen, ask your parents to reach out to a provider specializing in adolescent care. 

Major depressive disorder (MDD)

Major depressive disorder is a commonly diagnosed depressive disorder. Episodes are marked by symptoms of depression that co-occur and last for two weeks or more. Major depression can be diagnosed in children, teens, and adults. 

Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) 

Persistent depressive disorder, also known as PDD or dysthymia, is an example of a disorder characterized by ongoing or persistent low levels of depression. To be diagnosed with this condition, you may need to experience depression for two years or more.  

A teen girl in a green shirt sits on the couch and taps on her cellphone in her hand with a worried expression.
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Pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) 

PMDD is a mental health condition where an individual who experiences menstrual periods may face symptoms of depression before their menstrual period. 

The symptoms of this condition are more extreme than pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and may occur up to two weeks before your period. Symptoms may alleviate within a couple of days of beginning your menstrual period. 

Other depressive disorders 

Other depressive disorders include:

  • Substance/medication-induced depressive disorder 
  • Depressive disorder due to another medical condition 
  • Other specified depressive disorder 
  • Unspecified depressive disorder 
  • Seasonal depression 
  • Situational depressive disorder 
  • Bipolar depression 
  • Post-partum depression 

Bipolar disorder, which impacts about 4% of youth aged 5-18, is a mood disorder that can accompany periods of depression. To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you must have experienced at least one episode of mania or hypomania. 

How to manage depressive disorders as a teen

For those who are experiencing the symptoms of depression, often the thought that is uppermost on their mind is how to stop being depressed. But the answer is not always simple. Depression is an actual mental health condition. Treating mental illness can require therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Feeling less depressed may not be as simple as telling yourself to "stop feeling sad" or to "think positively." The symptoms of depression can feel out of control at times.  

People of all backgrounds and life circumstances can live with depression. A mental health disorder may also increase the risk of other mental health conditions, such as substance use disorder or anxiety. When experiencing multiple diagnoses, individuals with depression may require more significant support. 

Although depression can be life-long, it is often manageable with treatment. Extend compassion to yourself and know that depression is not your fault. There are ways to reduce the intensity of symptoms and care for your mental health. 

Therapy is a leading treatment for depression. In addition to therapy, there are lifestyle changes you can implement to make a difference in your ability to cope with depression. For example, according to nutritional psychiatry, what you choose to eat can affect your mood and well-being. Here are some tips that may help you in coping with symptoms of depression. 

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Gain research-based techniques to manage depressive symptoms

Eat nutrient-dense meals

Although you might struggle to eat or choose healthy foods, evidence shows that eating nutrient-dense foods may play a role in improving symptoms. Try to increase certain foods in your diet that might boost your mood. These foods may include: 

  • Lean meats 
  • Leafy green vegetables 
  • Fresh fruits 
  • Whole grains
  • Fish like tilapia or salmon 
  • Avocado oil 
  • Natural sugars 

These foods may benefit you if you have low folic acid or energy levels. In addition, drink water throughout your day. However, it's important to speak with your doctor before making any dietary changes. 

Try physical exercise

If you experience depression, motivating yourself to exercise may feel challenging. However, regular exercise can positively affect mood and physical health. For example, by releasing endorphins that help us feel optimistic, exercise can promote sleep.

A medical journal's systematic review and meta-analysis speculate that depression may be associated with a lack of exercise. Other studies show that exercise increases mental health overall. 

You may practice exercise in a variety of ways, including the following: 

  • Going for a walk 
  • Playing at a park
  • Swimming 
  • Practicing yoga (proven to reduce symptoms of depression) 
  • Biking
  • Going to the gym 
  • Walking up and down stairs
  • Participating in your physical education class at school 
  • Stretching 
  • Running
  • Lifting weights 
  • Rock climbing 
  • Hiking 
  • Horseback riding 

Get enough sleep

Ensuring sleep hygiene each night may make a significant difference in your mood. Our bodies depend on sleep to feel well. Studies show that not getting enough sleep can cause physical and social consequences

If you struggle to sleep due to depression or another issue, consider reaching out to your doctor for support. They may be able to help you create a sleep routine that helps your body to prepare for sleep each night. If the challenge is more due to physical or psychological factors, sleep medications are often available for insomnia. You might also be recommended for a sleep study if you struggle to breathe or often snore during your sleep. 

Practice sleep hygiene by trying the following techniques: 

  • Turn off all personal electronic devices one hour before bed 
  • Ensure the climate in your bedroom is comfortable 
  • Remove extra pillows or blankets that make you feel uncomfortable in bed
  • Turn off the lights 30 minutes before you hope to sleep 
  • Consider utilizing a sleep meditation 
  • Drink non-caffeinated tea or hot milk before bed 
  • Listen to soothing sounds, such as rain or wave sounds 

Find support 

While coping strategies and self-help can be useful, they aren’t always the whole answer. Whether you're facing difficulty with friends and family, symptoms of a mental health condition like depression, or other distressing symptoms, therapy may be valuable. A therapist can help you develop a plan that works best for you. 

Parents and teenagers can find teen therapy from mental health and wellness professionals with relevant experience in treating depression. Talk to your primary care physician and ask for a referral to a therapist to get started. You might also contact your insurance company to see who they cover, join a support group, or use a reputable online therapy platform like BetterHelp (18+) or TeenCounseling (13-19). 

Peer-reviewed studies show that online therapy can be a valuable service as effective in treating depression as traditional methods. Online therapy can offer a place to talk freely and process your thoughts in a therapeutic environment. It's often more affordable than traditional in-person counseling, as well. 

Takeaway

If you're experiencing depressive symptoms as a teen, reach out for support from your caregiver, school counselor, or support team. Depression is a treatable condition and can be managed through counseling in many cases. If you're ready to start, ask your parent if you can reach out to a counselor.
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