Symptoms Of Depression To Look Out For In Teenagers

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated January 10, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Depression is a mental health disorder that may be experienced at almost any stage of life. While there are common symptoms between adults and teenagers with this mental illness, the natural fluctuations of mood and behavior during adolescence can make it harder to identify in young people. Learning more about how depression can manifest in teenagers can equip you to take the appropriate measures if you ever notice concerning symptoms in your adolescent child.

Believe Your Teen May Be Experiencing Depression?

What Is Depression?

Depression, or major depressive disorder (MDD), is a mental illness that affects one in seven people between the ages of 10 and 19 globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

It’s a serious condition because it has the potential to impact almost every aspect of an individual’s life, from daily functioning to relationships to eating and sleeping patterns.

When a person experiences multiple MDD symptoms that last for more than two weeks, a mental health professional may diagnose them with the disorder. From there, they can recommend a treatment plan that's tailored to the individual. It’s important to note that depression is a serious condition that’s unlikely to resolve on its own without treatment.

Symptoms Of Depression In Teenagers

People go through many changes in almost every area of life during their adolescent years. As such, they may exhibit symptoms from the list below but not have a mental health disorder; they may simply be experiencing the tumult that can come with growing up. So how do you know when your teen may actually have depression? First, doing what you can to keep the lines of communication open with them can help. If you’ve shown them that you can be a nonjudgmental listener, they’re more likely to come to you if they feel they have a problem. Next, pay special attention to whether these symptoms seem to be interfering with your child’s daily functioning. If their schoolwork is slipping, their chores or personal hygiene no longer get taken care of, and they no longer seem motivated to hang out with friends or do things they love, these may be cause for concern.

Note that a mental health professional typically requires that multiple symptoms be present for more than two weeks to qualify as MDD. If you’re unsure, seeking the advice of a licensed professional is usually a wise next step—especially since symptoms of depression may overlap with those of other mental health disorders, such as bipolar or a personality disorder. Remember, only a trained mental health professional can offer an accurate diagnosis. In general, however, these are most common symptoms of depression in teenagers:

  • Feeling sad and hopeless

  • Frequent crying

  • Intensely negative thoughts

  • Irritability

  • Being overly critical of themselves

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Trouble making decisions

  • Feelings of worthlessness

  • Significant fluctuations in sleep or eating habits

  • No longer showing interest in activities once enjoyed

  • Withdrawing or self-isolating

Symptoms That May Require Immediate Action

While the major depression symptoms listed above can be alarming for any parent or guardian, certain symptoms may be a more significant cause for concern and require them to take action right away. For example, if you’ve discovered that your teenager has begun to self-harm, be preoccupied with death, express suicidal thoughts, or engage in suicidal attempts, it’s usually crucial to get them immediate support. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by dialing 988 and is available 24/7. Connecting your child with a mental health professional who specializes in adolescents is typically the immediate next course of action.

Treatment For Depression In Teenagers

As with many other mental health issues, the treatment for depression in teens often involves psychotherapy—sometimes in combination with medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common types of psychotherapy for those experiencing depression. It’s based on the idea that thoughts cause feelings and behaviors, so the goal of practicing it is to help the individual recognize and shift flawed or otherwise unhelpful thought patterns. A trained therapist can guide your teenager through this process over time, in addition to giving them a safe space to explore difficult emotions and helping them identify strategies for managing their symptoms.

It’s important to note that teenagers often fare better during mental health treatment when their needs and opinions are taken into account in the process. One study found that teenagers are more likely to accept treatment—and therefore benefit from it—when their provider makes an effort to establish rapport, learn information about their disorder, and include them in the decision making process. Both the teenager and their parents or guardians should be comfortable with the treatment plan that the provider lays out for them. If any party has a concern about some part of it, they should feel free to disseminate it.

Tips That Can Help Increase Treatment Effectiveness

There are a variety of other lifestyle changes that may help your teenager better manage their symptoms and allow their treatment to be more effective. If your teen has been diagnosed with depression, supporting them in developing healthy habits like the following can be helpful. If your teen is not currently experiencing any symptoms of a mental illness, encouraging them to prioritize the following can still help them remain in good mental health.

  • Get regular exercise. Getting enough physical activity can offer both teens and adults a host of physical and mental health benefits. It’s well-known to be a mood-booster, especially when done outside in the sun. Additionally, some studies even suggest that exercise promotes nerve cell growth in the hippocampus, which may help relieve or reduce symptoms of depression.

  • Lean on loved ones. Studies show that having a strong social support system is associated with a lower risk of both physical and mental health problems, from heart disease and obesity to anxiety and depression.

  • Get enough sleep. Teenagers need 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night to fuel the growth and changes their bodies and minds are going through. Enough rest can be helpful in seeing things with a more balanced perspective and having more control over one’s emotions.

  • Eat well. Research also shows that eating a balanced, nutritious diet can help reduce symptoms of depression. According to the experts, it should include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and should limit processed foods for best results.

Believe Your Teen May Be Experiencing Depression?

How Therapy Can Make A Difference

As mentioned above, psychotherapy will typically be part of your teenager’s treatment plan if they’re diagnosed with depression. In-person therapy is the traditional option. If your teen prefers this method, you can look for a provider in your local area. If they’d feel more comfortable with a virtual option, you might consider an online therapy platform like TeenCounseling. With your consent, it can match your child with a provider they can meet with via phone, video call, and/or online chat. Since research shows that in-person and online therapy can offer similar benefits, your teenager can choose the format that feels right for them. Note, however, that for severe cases, virtual therapy may not be a recommended option.

Takeaway

Depression is a serious mental illness that can impact virtually every aspect of a person’s life. If you start to notice signs of depression in your teenager, taking action to get them the treatment they may need is usually an important next step.

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