It is not uncommon for teenagers to be irritable, emotional, and defiant at times. It is also not unusual for teens to sleep in late, or to spend less time with family, as they develop more independence in their day-to-day lives. However, these expected or “normal” teen behaviors make it very easy for parents to miss any signs of mental illness, including the tell-tale signs of depression. As a parent, maybe you have asked the question: Is my teenager depressed, or is this just a phase? Perhaps you are here trying to understand the signs of depression in adolescents, and to determine if your son or daughter needs help.
You are in the right place.
Depression in teenagers is on the rise—amidst an ongoing pandemic, rocky political climate, and increase in social media use. Learning about the signs of depression in teenagers, and knowing when to seek help, is so important for modern parents with adolescents at home. Here is why.
Teenagers are experiencing depression more than ever. An estimated 1 in 6 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the year 2020 alone. About three million adolescents had serious thoughts of suicide, while another 3.8 million young adults (ages 18 to 25) also considered taking their own lives. These statistics are harrowing. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death among people ages 10-14 and 25-34, according to the CDC, and depression is a primary driver behind it.
If you suspect your teen is struggling with depression, or simply want to be prepared, knowledge will be key. Below, we discuss the top signs and symptoms of depression in teenagers today.
Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Teens
Every teenager is different, and the signs of depression can vary person to person. Depression can also range in severity. In general, however, teenagers with depression will exhibit a significant change in their attitudes, thinking, and behaviors. Often, these changes trigger problems at school, home, or even with friends. Teens who are depressed may also experience sadness without reason, feel unmotivated to do anything, and withdraw completely from people and activities. Other signs of depression might include getting in trouble, sleeping excessively, and exhibiting forms of self-harm.
Look closely for the following signs of depression in teens:
- Excessive feelings of sadness or hopelessness, often without any apparent reason
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt, as well as low self-esteem
- Lack of energy or motivation
- Loss of interest in once-loved activities
- Social isolation
- Changes in sleeping patterns; sleeping too little or too much
- Changes in eating habits, including a reduced or increased appetite
- Complaints of physical ailments without cause, such as stomach aches, headaches, and fatigue
- Feelings of fear or anxiety
- Fixation on past failures, or exaggerated self-criticism and blame
- Drop in grades or frequent absences from school
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering things, and/or making decisions
- Increased anger, aggression, or violent behaviors
- Relationship troubles, with family or friends
- Defiant or irresponsible behavior, such as skipping class or being late for obligations
- Getting in trouble, with the law (such as a DUI) or at school (such as fighting)
- Less attention to personal hygiene
- Self-harm, such as cutting or burning
- Frequent thoughts of death or suicide (or an actual attempt)
- Substance abuse (drugs or alcohol)
When Should Parents Be Concerned about Teen Depression?
As noted above, it can be difficult to assess whether a teen is struggling with depression, or exhibiting signs of moody teenage behavior. The general rule of thumb is that, if your teen is showing multiple signs above, to look into speaking with a professional. You should also consider speaking with your teen. Ask your teen questions about their life, their level of happiness, and try to gauge whether they are feeling overwhelmed.
Another indicator of concern is that if the above signs and symptoms of depression are disrupting or interfering with your teenager’s life. Is his lack of motivation contributing to a decline in school performance? Is her lack of confidence and worth, or feelings of guilt and blame, affecting her relationships with others? Is their avoidance of activities and interaction affecting their physical health? If you see that changes in behaviors and thought patterns are impacting your teen’s ability to carry out daily tasks, that is a tell-tale sign that it’s time to seek professional help.
You can talk to your family doctor or pediatrician about these signs and your concerns. You may also speak with a mental health professional who works specifically with adolescents/young adults, like Turnbridge.
It’s important to know that depression symptoms are not likely to get better on their own. In fact, they may get worse if left untreated and unaddressed. Depressed teenagers are at high risk of suicide. As such, parents should also be aware of the warning signs of suicide, such as:
- Significant feelings of hopelessness, and having no meaning or purpose
- Believing that no one cares about them; giving up on themselves completely
- Abusing drugs and/or alcohol, to help relieve the emotional pain
- Exhibiting defiant and violent behaviors
- Preparing for death, such as giving away belongings, writing letters, and making a will
- Talking about dying or death obsessively
- Threatening to hurt or kill one’s self
- Attempting to hurt or kill one’s self
If your teen is exhibiting the above symptoms, it is critical to seek immediate help.
Seeking Treatment for Teens Showing Signs of Depression
If your teen is showing signs of depression, do not wait to seek professional help. You can start with your family doctor, with a school nurse, or by confidentially calling a mental health treatment provider.
There are many ways to treat depression. In teenagers, treatment typically involves a combination of therapies, including behavioral therapy and family therapy. These psychotherapies have proved to be highly effective in helping teens get to the root of their struggles and turn around negative thought patterns. Teens also learn healthy coping mechanisms to handle depressive episodes.
Sometimes, medication-assisted treatment is recommended for teens with depression, but this is typically approached with caution. Teens using anti-depressants must be closely monitored, such as in an inpatient treatment setting, due to the side effects and risk of suicide.
Depression in teenagers is diagnosed through interviews and psychological tests. The severity of depression, as well as the risk of suicide, will be determined through these interviews. Once an assessment is complete, your mental healthcare provider can determine the best course of treatment for your teenager.
At Turnbridge, we are focused on evidence-based therapies and holistic activities for teenagers and young adults battling depression. If you are interested in learning about our depression treatment programs, or simply wish to speak with an admissions counselor, please do not hesitate to reach out. Call 877-581-1793 today.