Understanding Teen Depression
Learn the signs of teen depression, be an educated parent.
Teen depression is a serious mental health problem that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities. It affects how your teenager thinks, feels and behaves, and it can cause emotional, functional and physical problems. Although depression can occur at any time in life, symptoms may be different between teens and adults.
Issues such as peer pressure, academic expectations and changing bodies can bring a lot of ups and downs for teens. But for some teens, the lows are more than just temporary feelings — they’re a symptom of depression.
Teen depression isn’t a weakness or something that can be overcome with willpower — it can have serious consequences and requires long-term treatment. For most teens, depression symptoms ease with treatment such as medication and psychological counseling.
Teen depression signs and symptoms include a change from the teenager’s previous attitude and behavior that can cause significant distress and problems at school or home, in social activities, or in other areas of life.
Depression symptoms can vary in severity, but changes in your teen’s emotions and behavior may include the examples below.
Be alert for emotional changes, such as:
- Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
- Frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters
- Feeling hopeless or empty
- Irritable or annoyed mood
- Loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities
- Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends
- Low self-esteem
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism
- Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
- Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak
- Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide
Watch for changes in behavior, such as:
- Tiredness and loss of energy
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Changes in appetite — decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still
- Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
- Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches, which may include frequent visits to the school nurse
- Social isolation
- Poor school performance or frequent absences from school
- Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance
- Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors
- Self-harm — for example, cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing
- Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt
- What’s normal and what’s not
- It can be difficult to tell the difference between ups and downs that are just part of being a teenager and teen depression. Talk with your teen. Try to determine whether he or she seems
- capable of managing challenging feelings, or if life seems overwhelming.
When to see a doctor
If depression signs and symptoms continue, begin to interfere in your teen’s life, or cause you to have concerns about suicide or your teen’s safety, talk to a doctor or a mental health professional trained to work with adolescents. Your teen’s family doctor or pediatrician is a good place to start. Or your teen’s school may recommend someone.
Depression symptoms likely won’t get better on their own — and they may get worse or lead to other problems if untreated. Depressed teenagers may be at risk of suicide, even if signs and symptoms don’t appear to be severe.
If you’re a teen and you think you may be depressed — or you have a friend who may be depressed — don’t wait to get help. Talk to a health care provider such as your doctor or school nurse. Share your concerns with a parent, a close friend, a spiritual leader, a teacher or someone else you trust.
When to get emergency help
Suicide is often associated with depression. If you think your teen may hurt themselves or attempt suicide, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you’re having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your mental health professional.
- Call a suicide hotline. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use its webchat on suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat. Seek help from your primary care doctor or other health care provider.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
- Never ignore comments or concerns about suicide. Always take action to get help.