Recognizing And Navigating Teen Depression

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated February 2, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Teen depression can be a severe mental health disorder that may cause persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in activities. It can affect how a teenager thinks, feels, and acts, and it can result in emotional, functional, and physical problems. It can be important to ensure that your teen receives help and support from a licensed mental health professional if you believe they may be experiencing depression. Other ways you may support your teenager could be by encouraging a healthy lifestyle, supporting their interests, concentrating on the positives, teaching them healthy coping skills, and maintaining open communication. If you find that you don’t know the best ways to guide your teenager through this tough time, you may benefit from online therapy.

Need Help Supporting Your Teen Through Depression?

Depression In Teenagers

It can be understandable why teens often experience dramatic mood swings when you consider that fluctuating hormones are typically added to the numerous other changes that generally take place during the teenage years. According to the American Psychiatric Association, one in five children usually experiences depression, and about 20% of these young people receive the help they need. Often, therapy can be very beneficial for teens in helping them work through depression and other mental health concerns. 

If you’ve noticed that your teenager has been deeply sad for longer than two weeks and they exhibit additional signs of depression, it may be time to seek medical treatment.

Signs Of Teenage Depression

Some initial signs and symptoms of teen depression could include:

  • A shift in the teen's attitude and conduct

  • Considerable discomfort and issues at school, at home, or in social activities

  • Excessive irritability

  • Listlessness or disinterest in activities they used to enjoy

The severity of depression symptoms can vary greatly. Teen melancholy can cause children to sleep excessively, modify their dietary habits, and even engage in illegal behaviors like drinking alcohol or stealing.

Even though your teenager may not display every indication of this mental health disorder, here are some more signs of depression in adolescents as outlined by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Emotional Changes

You may wish to be aware of any emotional shifts, such as:

  • Sadness, which may involve uncontrollable sobbing episodes for no apparent reason

  • Frustration or rage in response to minor issues

  • Angry mood at inappropriate times

  • Loss of enjoyment or interest in routine activities

  • Loss of interest in family and friends, or frequent disagreements with them

  • Low self-confidence

  • Feelings of inadequacy or guilt

Behavioral Changes

You may also want to keep an eye out for any changes in behavior, such as:

  • Tiredness and low energy levels

  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping

  • Appetite changes: reduced appetite and weight reduction, or increased appetite and weight gain

  • Pacing, handwringing, or an unwillingness to sit still

  • Slower-than-usual thoughts, speech, or physical motions

  • Frequent complaints of health problems like inexplicable bodily pains and headaches, including visits to the school nurse

  • Using drugs or alcohol

Diagnosis And Risk Factors

There may not be any physical medical tests that can accurately identify depression at this time. Interviews and psychological testing with a teenager’s family, teachers, and peers are frequently used by healthcare experts to evaluate whether a teen has depression.

Based on the results of these interviews, the degree of teen depression may be determined. The details gathered from the interviews may also be used to provide depression treatment suggestions.

Common patterns generally indicate that the following may be probable risk factors that could trigger depression. 

  • Obesity, peer difficulties, long-term bullying, or academic challenges that can have a detrimental influence on self-esteem

  • Being a survivor or witness of violent acts, such as physical or sexual abuse*

  • Other mental health problems, such as bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, personality disorders, anorexia, or bulimia

  • Having personality qualities such as poor self-esteem, being too reliant, being self-critical, or being negative

  • Alcohol, nicotine, or other substance abuse

  • Being a part of the LGBTQ+ community in a hostile atmosphere

  • Having a learning impairment or ADD/ADHD 

  • Spending time with other kids that encourage illegal behavior

*If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, please know that help is available via the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which is available at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Can Depression Run In Families?

Depression can run in families, and teenagers with a family history of depression may be more likely to experience teen depression. Your teenager's risk of depression may also be increased by family history and difficulties with family or others, such as:

  • Having a parent, grandmother, or another blood family who is depressed, bipolar, or experiences disordered use of alcohol

  • Having a dysfunctional family or experiencing family strife

  • Having just gone through a challenging life event, such as parental divorce, parental military duty, or a loved one's death

Potential Complications Of Depression

Depression that goes untreated can lead to emotional, behavioral, and physical issues that influence other aspects of your teen's life. Adolescent depression, especially when left untreated, can lead to a variety of complications, such as:

  • Disordered use of alcohol and drugs

  • Academic issues

  • Relationship problems and family disputes

  • Participation in the juvenile justice system

  • Suicidal thoughts*

A medical professional may also check for symptoms of co-existing psychiatric disorders, like anxiety or substance use, and test for more complex disorders that may involve depression, like bipolar disorder or psychosis. They may also conduct a physical exam to see if any physical health problem could be contributing to your teenager’s symptoms.

*If you have been experiencing any suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help from a mental health professional immediately. You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Treatment For Adolescent Depression

Depression can be treated with several approaches, including therapy. If a teen's depression is caused by familial strife, family counseling may be beneficial.

Any school or peer difficulties may require assistance from the teen's family or instructors. Your child's mental healthcare professional can establish the appropriate treatment plan for them. On rare occasions, teenagers with severe depression may need to be hospitalized at a mental facility (or rehabilitation facility if they abuse alcohol or drugs), but seeing a therapist regularly may help establish a baseline so people around them know if their emotional state is unusual or extreme.

Improving Adolescent Mental Health

There may not be a specific technique to keep depression at bay. Mental health can be complicated and often requires individualized care. Just like a physical affliction, mental health disorders may require attention and care without being a major crisis.

If your child develops depression, it does not necessarily mean they did not have a perfectly loving and supportive family environment.

The following techniques can be important guidelines for supporting your teen, whether they are experiencing symptoms of depression or not.

  • Support your child's interests

  • Be a role model for healthy living

  • Insist on getting enough sleep regularly

  • Promote physical activity

  • Concentrate on the positive aspects of your day

  • Teach your child to manage stress

  • Encourage them to believe in themselves

  • Give them a strong sense of self-control

  • Keep lines of communication open

  • Keep an eye on how they're working

  • Encourage them to talk to a school counselor or any other mental health professional if in need

Need Help Supporting Your Teen Through Depression?

Online Therapy May Help You Support Your Teen

Supporting your teenager with depression may be challenging, and you may find that you begin to experience stress or even anxiety symptoms when handling this potentially complex situation. Please know that this can be normal and that you may benefit from professional support of your own. Suppose traditional therapy is not accessible to you. In that case, online therapy can be a great alternative that allows you to connect with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your home at a time that fits your schedule.

According to this study, online therapy can be extremely effective in treating the effects of stress and anxiety, among many other mental health concerns. If you feel you would benefit from speaking with a licensed mental health professional, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Takeaway

Depression in teenagers can involve persistent sadness, a loss of interest in activities, irritability, low self-esteem, and a variety of other emotional and behavioral changes. If you think your child may be living with depression, please do not hesitate to get them the professional help they deserve. You may also support your teenager by concentrating on the positive parts of life, teaching them healthy coping strategies, maintaining open lines of communication, supporting their interests, and encouraging a healthy lifestyle. If you’re finding it challenging to help your teen with the depression they’re experiencing, you may find online therapy to be a helpful tool.

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