Depression in Teens: What to Watch For

depressed teen girl sitting by couch

The teenage mind can be a hard thing to figure out—even teens themselves may not always understand why they react the way they do. Between out-of-control hormones and a brain that's still forming its emotional circuitry, life's highs can seem especially exciting, and its lows can seem downright dismal. But how do you know whether a teen's misery is temporary or whether it's something you should be concerned about? Here are a few tips to help you better understand what to look for and to know when concern, or even intervention, is called for.

Cause and Effect

Navigating the teen years can be stressful, and depression is not uncommon. It can be caused by a wide variety of influences, including changing hormone levels, a family history of depression, stressful or upsetting events, learning disorders, poor body image, bullying, even physical, sexual, or psychological abuse.
Because teens have a tendency to isolate themselves, their symptoms can escalate. You can help simply by lending your ear and being there for them: Listening to a teen express her feelings can have a positive effect and make her feel less isolated. Just be careful and make sure that you're being sympathetic, not judgmental.

depressed teen girl

The Facts About Depression

  1. Depression is difficult to diagnose in adolescents. Normal sadness and teenage depression can mimic each other in many ways.

  2. Teenage girls are diagnosed with depression twice as often as boys.

  3. A depressed teen is more apt to commit suicide than a depressed adult.

What to Watch For
The signs and symptoms of depression can widely vary from one teenager to the next. Anywhere from one to several of the following characteristics can indicate that your teen is suffering from depression:

  • Frequent sadness

  • Feeling hopeless

  • Withdrawal from friends and preferring to be alone

  • Declining performance at school coupled with poor attendance

  • Low energy level

  • Trouble concentrating on tasks

  • Increased anger and irritability

  • Overreacting to criticism

  • Low self-esteem

  • Being unusually tearful

  • Trouble making decisions

  • Low motivation

  • Forgetfulness

  • Disinterest in hobbies and activities, especially ones that she used to enjoy

  • Change in appetite: This can manifest as weight loss or weight gain

  • Altered sleeping habits, either difficulty getting to sleep or chronically sleeping in

  • Restlessness

  • A change in behavior at home or school. Such changes can include: defiant behavior, like ignoring curfews, or acting uncharacteristically rebellious

  • Suicidal tendencies. Signs of this include a fascination with death or deliberate self-injury

  • Increased physical complaints, unrelated to a medical diagnosis, that can include: headache, stomachache, and fatigue

  • Illegal drug or alcohol abuse. It is common for teens to try using drugs or alcohol to try to deal with their depression, although such experimenting can actually cause or worsen the condition

depressed teen boy

Treatment Plan

Even before treatment, the most critical element is ensuring that a child has a good support network both at home and school. Beyond that, the first line of attack is usually talk therapy or psychotherapy with a qualified counselor, family therapy, or cognitive-behavioral therapy. In some of the more severe cases, a combination of medication and therapy is the best way to help get teenagers back on track.
Teen depression is a serious diagnosis. By keeping the lines of communication open among a teen, his teachers, and his healthcare providers, you can help ensure a timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

About the Author

Morningside Recovery is a world-class recovery facility dedicated to providing the excellent care for individuals who are chemically dependent or suffering from co-occurring disorders. Visit to learn more more about Morningside Recovery's mental illness, addiction, or other treatment options.