your Family by Learning the Signs, Symptoms
and Effects of Teen Depression
isn’t just bad moods and the occasional
melancholy—it’s a serious problem
that impacts every aspect of a teen’s
life. Teen depression can lead to drug and alcohol
abuse, self–loathing and self–mutilation,
pregnancy, violence, and even suicide. But as
a concerned parent, teacher, or friend, there
are many ways you can help. Talking about the
problem and offering support can go a long way
toward getting your teenager back on track.
There are as many misconceptions about teen
depression as there are about teenagers in general.
Yes, the teen years are tough, but most teens
balance the requisite angst with good friendships,
success in school or outside activities, and
the development of a strong sense of self.
bad moods or acting out is to be expected, but
depression is something different. Depression
can destroy the very essence of a teenager’s
personality, causing an overwhelming sense of
sadness, despair, or anger.
incidences of teen depression are actually increasing,
or we’re just becoming more aware of them,
the fact remains that depression strikes teenagers
far more often than most people think. And although
depression is highly treatable, experts say
only one in five depressed teens receive help.?Unlike
an adult, who have the ability to seek assistance
on his or her own, a teenager usually must rely
on parents, teachers, or other caregivers to
recognize his or her suffering and get he or
she the treatment the teen needs. So if you
have an adolescent in your life, it’s
important to learn what teen depression looks
like and what to do if you spot the warning
and symptoms of teen depression
Teenagers face a host of pressures, from the
changes of puberty to questions about who they
are and where they fit in. The natural transition
from child to adult can also bring parental
conflict as teens start to assert their independence.
With all this drama, it isn’t always easy
to differentiate between depression and normal
teenage moodiness. Making things even more complicated,
teens with depression do not necessarily appear
sad, nor do they always withdraw from others.
For some depressed teens, symptoms of irritability,
aggression, and rage are more prominent.
and symptoms of depression in teens
• Sadness or hopelessness
• Irritability, anger, or hostility
• Tearfulness or frequent crying
• Withdrawal from friends and family
• Loss of interest in activities
• Changes in eating and sleeping habits
• Restlessness and agitation
• Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
• Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
• Fatigue or lack of energy
• Difficulty concentrating
• Thoughts of death or suicide
unsure if an adolescent in your life is depressed
or just “being a teenager,” consider
how long the symptoms have been present, how
severe they are, and how different the teen
is acting from his or her usual self. While
some “growing pains” are to be expected
as teenagers grapple with the challenges of
growing up, dramatic, long-lasting changes in
personality, mood, or behavior are red flags
of a deeper problem.
difference between teenage and adult depression
Depression in teens can look very different
from depression in adults. The following symptoms
of depression are more common in teenagers than
in their adult counterparts:
or angry mood – As noted above, irritability,
rather than sadness, is often the predominant
mood in depressed teens. A depressed teenager
may be grumpy, hostile, easily frustrated, or
prone to angry outbursts.
aches and pains – Depressed teens frequently
complain about physical ailments such as headaches
or stomachaches. If a thorough physical exam
does not reveal a medical cause, these aches
and pains may indicate depression.
sensitivity to criticism – Depressed teens
are plagued by feelings of worthlessness, making
them extremely vulnerable to criticism, rejection,
and failure. This is a particular problem for
from some, but not all people – While
adults tend to isolate themselves when depressed,
teenagers usually keep up at least some friendships.
However, teens with depression may socialize
less than before, pull away from their parents,
or start hanging out with a different crowd.
of teen depression
The negative effects of teenage depression go
far beyond a melancholy mood. Many rebellious
and unhealthy behaviors or attitudes in teenagers
are actually indications of depression. The
following are some the ways in which teens “act
out” or “act in” in an attempt
to cope with their emotional pain:
at school. Depression can cause low energy and
concentration difficulties. At school, this
may lead to poor attendance, a drop in grades,
or frustration with schoolwork in a formerly
away. Many depressed teens run away from home
or talk about running away. Such attempts are
usually a cry for help.
and alcohol abuse. Teens may use alcohol or
drugs in an attempt to “self-medicate”
their depression. Unfortunately, substance abuse
only makes things worse.
self-esteem. Depression can trigger and intensify
feelings of ugliness, shame, failure, and unworthiness.
addiction. Teens may go online to escape their
problems, but excessive computer use only increases
their isolation, making them more depressed.
behavior. Depressed teens may engage in dangerous
or high-risk behaviors, such as reckless driving,
out-of-control drinking, and unsafe sex.
Some depressed teens—usually boys who
are the victims of bullying—become violent.
As in the case of the Columbine and Newtown
school massacres, self-hatred and a wish to
die can erupt into violence and homicidal rage.
is also associated with a number of other mental
health problems, including eating disorders
Suicide warning signs in teenagers
Teenagers and Suicide
If you suspect that a teenager you know is suicidal,
take immediate action! For 24-hour suicide prevention
and support in the U.S., call the National Suicide
Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
a suicide helpline outside the U.S., visit Befrienders
more about suicide risk factors, warning signs,
and what to do in a crisis, read Suicide Prevention.
teens often think about, speak of, or make "attention-getting"
attempts at suicide. But an alarming and increasing
number of teenage suicide attempts are successful,
so suicidal thoughts or behaviors should always
be taken very seriously.
For the overwhelming
majority of suicidal teens, depression or another
psychological disorder plays a primary role.
In depressed teens who also abuse alcohol or
drugs, the risk of suicide is even greater.
Because of the very real danger of suicide,
teenagers who are depressed should be watched
closely for any signs of suicidal thoughts or
warning signs in depressed teens
• Talking or joking about committing suicide
• Saying things like, “I’d
be better off dead,” “I wish I could
disappear forever,” or “There’s
no way out.”
• Speaking positively about death or romanticizing
dying (“If I died, people might love me
• Writing stories and poems about death,
dying, or suicide
• Engaging in reckless behavior or having
a lot of accidents resulting in injury
• Giving away prized possessions
• Saying goodbye to friends and family
as if for the last time
• Seeking out weapons, pills, or other
ways to kill themselves
a depressed teen to open up
If you suspect that a teenager in your life
is suffering from depression, speak up right
away. Even if you’re unsure that depression
is the issue, the troublesome behaviors and
emotions you’re seeing in your teenager
are signs of a problem.
not that problem turns out to be depression,
it still needs to be addressed—the sooner
the better. In a loving and non-judgmental way,
share your concerns with your teenager. Let
him or her know what specific signs of depression
you’ve noticed and why they worry you.
Then encourage your child to share what he or
she is going through.
Your teen may
be reluctant to open up; he or she may be ashamed,
afraid of being misunderstood. Alternatively,
depressed teens may simply have a hard time
expressing what they’re feeling.
If your teen
claims nothing is wrong but has no explanation
for what is causing the depressed behavior,
you should trust your instincts. Remember that
denial is a strong emotion. Furthermore, teenagers
may not believe that what they’re experiencing
is the result of depression.
for Talking to a Depressed Teen
support Let depressed teenagers
know that you’re there for them, fully
and unconditionally. Hold back from asking a
lot of questions (teenagers don’t like
to feel patronized or crowded), but make it
clear that you’re ready and willing to
provide whatever support they need.
gentle but persistent Don’t
give up if your adolescent shuts you out at
first. Talking about depression can be very
tough for teens. Be respectful of your child’s
comfort level while still emphasizing your concern
and willingness to listen.
without lecturing Resist any urge
to criticize or pass judgment once your teenager
begins to talk. The important thing is that
your child is communicating. Avoid offering
unsolicited advice or ultimatums as well.
feelings Don’t try to talk
your teen out of his or her depression, even
if his or her feelings or concerns appear silly
or irrational to you. Simply acknowledge the
pain and sadness he or she is feeling. If you
don’t, he or she will feel like you don't
take his or her emotions seriously.
treatment for teen depression
Depression is very damaging when left untreated,
so don’t wait and hope that the symptoms
will go away. If you see depression’s
warning signs, seek professional help.
Make an immediate
appointment for your teen to see the family
physician for a depression screening. Be prepared
to give your doctor specific information about
your teen’s depression symptoms, including
how long they’ve been present, how much
they’re affecting your child’s daily
life, and any patterns you’ve noticed.
The doctor should also be told about any close
relatives who have ever been diagnosed with
depression or other mental health disorders.
As part of the depression screening, the doctor
will give your teenager a complete physical
exam and take blood samples to check for medical
causes of your child’s symptoms.
out a depression specialist
If there are no health problems that are causing
your teenager’s depression, ask your doctor
to refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist
who specializes in children and adolescents.
Depression in teens can be tricky, particularly
when it comes to treatment options such as medication.
A mental health professional with advanced training
and a strong background treating adolescents
is the best bet for your teenager’s best
a specialist, always get your child’s
input. Teenagers are dependent on parents for
making many of their health decisions, so listen
to what they’re telling you. No one therapist
is a miracle worker, and no one treatment works
for everyone. If your child feels uncomfortable
or is just not ’connecting’ with
the psychologist or psychiatrist, ask for a
referral to another provider that may be better
suited to your teenager.
rely on medication alone
Expect a discussion with the specialist you’ve
chosen about treatment possibilities for your
son or daughter. There are a number of treatment
options for depression in teenagers, including
one-on-one talk therapy, group or family therapy,
is often a good initial treatment for mild to
moderate cases of depression. Over the course
of therapy, your teen’s depression may
resolve. If it doesn’t, medication may
be warranted. However, antidepressants should
only be used as part of a broader treatment
some parents feel pushed into choosing antidepressant
medication over other treatments that may be
cost-prohibitive or time-intensive. However,
unless your child is considered to be high risk
for suicide (in which case medication and/or
constant observation may be necessary), you
have time to carefully weigh your options before
committing to any one treatment.
of teenage antidepressant use
In severe cases of depression, medication may
help ease symptoms. However, antidepressants
aren’t always the best treatment option.
They come with risks and side effects of their
own, including a number of safety concerns specific
to children and young adults. It’s important
to weigh the benefits against the risks before
starting your teen on medication.
and the teenage brain
Antidepressants were designed and tested on
adults, so their impact on the young, developing
brains is not yet completely understood. Some
researchers are concerned that the use of drugs
such as Prozac in children and teens might interfere
with normal brain development. The human brain
develops rapidly in young adults, and exposure
to antidepressants may impact that development—particularly
the way the brain manages stress and regulates
suicide warning for teens
Antidepressant medications may increase the
risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in some
teenagers. All antidepressants are required
by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
to carry a “black box” warning label
about this risk in children, adolescents, and
young adults up to the age of 24. The risk of
suicide is highest during the first two months
of antidepressant treatment.
adults are at an even greater risk for suicide
when taking antidepressants, including teens
with bipolar disorder, a family history of bipolar
disorder, or a history of previous suicide attempts.
antidepressants should be closely monitored
for any sign that the depression is getting
worse. Warning signs include new or
worsening symptoms of agitation, irritability,
or anger. Unusual changes in behavior are also
FDA guidelines, after starting an antidepressant
or changing the dose, your teenager should see
his or her doctor:
a week for four weeks
• Every two weeks for the next month
• At the end of their 12th week taking
• More often if problems or questions
on Antidepressants: Red Flags To Watch Out For
Call a doctor if you notice…
• New or more thoughts of suicide
• Failed suicide attempts
• New or worse depression
• New or worse anxiety
• Feeling very agitated or restless
• Panic attacks
• Difficulty sleeping (insomnia) •
New or worse irritability
• Acting aggressive, being angry, or violent
• Acting on dangerous impulses
• Being extremely hyperactive in actions
and talking (hypomania or mania)
• Other unusual changes in behavior
a teen through depression treatment
As the depressed teenager in your life goes
through treatment, the most important thing
you can do is to let him or her know that you’re
there to listen and offer support. Now more
than ever, your teenager needs to know that
he or she is valued, accepted, and cared for.
Be understanding. Living with
a depressed teenager can be difficult and draining.
At times, you may experience exhaustion, rejection,
despair, aggravation, or any other number of
negative emotions. During this trying time,
it’s important to remember that your child
is not being difficult on purpose. Your teen
is suffering, so do your best to be patient
Encourage physical activity. Encourage
your teenager to stay active. Exercise can go
a long way toward relieving the symptoms of
depression, so find ways to incorporate it into
your teenager’s day. Something as simple
as walking the dog or going on a bike ride can
social activity. Isolation only
makes depression worse, so encourage your teenager
to see friends and praise efforts to socialize.
Offer to take your teen out with friends or
suggest social activities that might be of interest,
such as sports, after-school clubs, or an art
involved in treatment. Make sure
your teenager is following all treatment instructions
and going to therapy. It’s especially
important that your child takes any prescribed
medication as instructed. Track changes in your
teen’s condition, and call the doctor
if depression symptoms seem to be getting worse.
Learn about depression. Just like
you would if your child had a disease you knew
very little about, read up on depression so
that you can be your own “expert.”
The more you know, the better equipped you’ll
be to help your depressed teen. Encourage your
teenager to learn more about depression as well.
Reading up on his or her condition can help
a depressed teen realize that he or she is not
alone, giving your child a better understanding
of what he or she is going through.
The road to
your depressed teenager’s recovery may
be bumpy, so be patient. Rejoice in small victories
and prepare for the occasional setback. Most
importantly, don’t judge yourself or compare
your family to others. As long as you’re
doing your best to get your teen the necessary
help, you’re doing your job.
care of the whole family when one child is depressed
As a parent dealing with teen depression, you
may find yourself focusing all your energy and
attention on your depressed child. Meanwhile,
you may be neglecting your own needs and the
needs of other family members. While helping
your depressed child should be a top priority,
it’s important to keep your whole family
strong and healthy during this difficult time.
Take care of yourself –
In order to help a depressed teen, you need
to stay healthy and positive yourself, so don’t
ignore your own needs. The stress of the situation
can affect your own moods and emotions, so cultivate
your well–being by eating right, getting
enough sleep, and making time for things you
out for support – Get the
emotional support you need. Reach out to friends,
join a support group, or see a therapist of
your own. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed,
frustrated, helpless, or angry. The important
thing is to talk about how your teen’s
depression is affecting you, rather than bottling
up your emotions.
open with the family – Don’t
tiptoe around the issue of teen depression in
an attempt to “protect” the other
children. Kids know when something is wrong.
When left in the dark, their imaginations will
often jump to far worse conclusions. Be open
about what is going on and invite your children
to ask questions and share their feelings.
the siblings – Depression
in one child can cause stress or anxiety in
other family members, so make sure “healthy”
children are not ignored. Siblings may need
special individual attention or professional
help of their own to handle their feelings about
the blame game – It can
be easy to blame yourself or another family
member for your teen’s depression, but
it only adds to an already stressful situation.
Furthermore, depression is normally caused by
a number of factors, so it’s unlikely—except
in the case of abuse or neglect—that any
loved one is “responsible.”
Teen Depression: A Guide for Teenagers
– A guide for teenagers with tips and
tools for helping yourself or a friend.
Dealing with Depression – You
can’t beat depression with sheer willpower,
but you can make a huge dent with simple lifestyle
changes and other coping tips.
Helping a Depressed Person Learn how
to avoid becoming depressed yourself while caring
for a loved one who is depressed
Depression Treatment – Learn
about the many effective ways of dealing with
depression including therapy, medication, and
Antidepressants – What you need
to know about antidepressants, including their
benefits and risks, so you can make an informed
decision about what’s right for you.
Deal With a Bully and Overcome Bullying
– Tips for kids, parents, and teachers
on how to put a stop to bullying, empower the
victim, and deal with a bullying child.
Dealing with Cyberbullying –
Tips for kids, parents, and teachers on how
to put a stop to cyberbullying, empower the
victim, and deal with a cyberbully.
Suicide Help – It may seem like
things will never get better, but don't lose
hope. Suicide is not your only option–help
Suicide prevention – You can
save a life. Suicide prevention starts with
recognizing the warning signs and taking them
Resources & References
Helpguide’s Yellow Pages
Resources for public assistance,
social services, and other health and human
General information about teen depression
Depression – Breaks down the different
types of depression in teenagers, as well as
the symptoms and remedies. (TeensHealth)
Depression in Boys –
While teen depression is more prevalent in girls,
teenage boys have their own special risk factors
and warning signs. This article delves deeper
into male teen depression.(Psychology Today)
Depression in Girls –
With society and hormonal changes wreaking havoc,
girls need extra care in the teen years. Learn
what parents can do. (Psychology Today)
About Teen Suicide – Discusses teen suicide
statistics, risk factors, warnings signs, and
how to get help. Also find coping tips for those
who have lost a child to suicide. (TeensHealth)
Youth Depression –
Offers a comprehensive list of warning signs
and behaviors in suicidal teenagers, as well
as advice on how to help. (Suicide Awareness
Voices of Education)
Teenage depression and violence
The Storms of Youth: Violence
and Depression in Adolescents – Looks
into the connection between adolescent depression
and violence, including the warning signs of
violence in teens. (athealth.com)
Warning Signs of Youth
Violence – Learn why some teenagers turn
violent, what the warning signs are, and who
is at risk. (American Psychological Association)
Treatment for teen
Treatment of Children with Mental Illness –
Answers to frequently asked questions about
the treatment of mental disorders in children,
including depression. (National Institute of
Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist
Finder – Series of articles on when to
seek help for your child and where to find it.
(American Academy of Child & Adolescent
Suicide: A Teacher’s Experience –
A teacher’s personal account of a student’s
suicide attempt. Includes suggestions on handling
potentially depressed students. (HealthyPlace)
Depression in School: A
Student’s Trial – From a formerly
depressed teen’s perspective, how teachers
can help depressed students. (HealthyPlace)
Medication Guide: About Using Antidepressants
in Children or Teenagers (PDF) – Medication
guide from the FDA covers common questions about
antidepressants in young adults. (U.S. Food
and Drug Administration)
for Children and Adolescents: Information for
Parents and Caregivers – Fact sheet from
the federal government on medication for children
and teens. (National Institute of Mental Health)
Smith, M.A., Suzanne Barston, and Jeanne Segal,
Ph.D. Last updated: March 2013.
©Helpguide.org. All rights
reserved. This reprint is for information only
and NOT a substitute for professional diagnosis
and treatment. Helpguide.org is an ad-free non-profit
resource for supporting better mental health
and lifestyle choices for adults and children.