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Depression in Teens

Recognizing Signs of Depression in Teens: What Parents Should Know

Teens can experience persistent sadness, just like grown-ups. Their feelings might affect how they socialize with friends and engage in everyday activities. Helping your child with their mental health challenges can be difficult, often leading you to feel helpless, especially if you’re unsure if their actions are developmentally appropriate or something more serious. 

If you notice signs of depression in your teen, talking to your pediatrician is a good first step. 

Signs of Depression in Teens

Depression is a psychological condition that affects one’s feelings, behaviors and thoughts. In teens, depression or major depressive disorder can be displayed in various ways, depending on the individual and severity of symptoms. Understanding the signs of depression in young people will allow you to intervene before they worsen. 

Some common early signs of depression in teens include:

  • Persistent sadness or irritability: Prolonged feelings of sadness, hopelessness or irritability that persist for several weeks.
  • Changes in sleep patterns: Trouble sleeping or oversleeping, often leading to fatigue and difficulty concentrating during the day.
  • Loss of interest and pleasure: Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed, withdrawing from friends, hobbies or extracurricular activities. 
  • Spending more time alone: Preferring to be alone, isolated, and away from large groups of peers and family.
  • Changes in appetite or weight: Eating more or less than usual, possibly causing weight loss or weight gain.
  • Fatigue and loss of energy and motivation: Feeling constantly tired and lacking energy, making it challenging to complete daily tasks or engage in activities. 
  • Poor performance at school: Lack of motivation to put in effort and complete assignments on time.

Clinical signs of depression in teens go beyond occasional or temporary symptoms, typically lasting for two weeks or more. 

Some clinical signs of depression in teens include:

  • Feelings of emptiness or hopelessness that lasts several weeks
  • Struggling to experience pleasure in anything
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleeping)
  • Feeling chronically tired, even after getting adequate sleep
  • Significant changes in appetite, leading to noticeable weight loss or gain
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Impulsive decision making, including use of alcohol and/or drugs, or engaging in other high-risk behaviors
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt over perceived failures or shortcomings, sometimes contributing to suicidal thoughts
  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomachaches, or other bodily discomforts that do not have a clear medical cause

If you notice any of these early or clinical signs of depression in your teen, reach out to your pediatrician for evaluation and guidance. 

Signs of Depression in Teen Girls or Female Identifying Youth

Female identifying and non-binary youth may display certain signs of depression more frequently than observed in male identifying youth, including:

  • Excessive worry or anxiety: Heightened anxiety or worry about various aspects of their lives, including school, relationships or the future.
  • Low self-esteem: Negative self-image and a low sense of self-worth, causing them to doubt their value and capabilities. 
  • Tolerating unhealthy relationships: Maintaining relationships with people who don’t treat them well because they lack the self-esteem to stand up for themselves.
  • Social withdrawal: Avoiding social interactions, preferring to spend time alone rather than with friends or family.

Signs of Depression in Teen Boys or Male Identifying Youth

While all signs of depression overlap between genders, there are specific indicators more commonly observed in male identifying youth, such as:

  • Anger or irritability: Expressing emotional distress through anger, irritability or hostility rather than sadness or tearfulness.
  • Risky behaviors: “Acting out” and engaging in risky behaviors, such as substance abuse, reckless driving or aggression, as a way to cope with their emotions.

How to Identify Warnings Signs of Depression in Teens

Maintaining open communication and a supportive environment for your child will help you to identify any warning signs of mental health challenges like depression. Here’s how parents and caregivers can help:

1. Pay Attention to Changes

Be vigilant for any significant and persistent changes in your teen’s behavior, mood or daily routines, as these could indicate underlying emotional struggles. Ask yourself, are they sleeping more or less than usual? Do they no longer want to see friends or keep up with hobbies and activities?

2. Encourage Open Dialogue

Create a safe and supportive environment for your teen to express their feelings and concerns with you without judgment. Encourage open communication and actively listen to what they have to say. Avoid blaming your child or offering too many solutions at first; start by listening and allowing them to vent. At the onset of any open dialogue with your child, ask if they are looking for advice or simply an opportunity to vent. Remember to be open minded and non-judgmental.

3. Seek Professional Help

If you notice persistent signs of depression in your teen, don’t hesitate to seek help from your pediatrician, who can provide a comprehensive evaluation and work with you to develop a treatment plan, which may include help from an adolescent psychiatrist. It is never too soon to begin looking for a therapist.

  • Zachary Jacobs, DO
    Adolescent Medicine
    Clinical Assistant Professor in Pediatrics

    Dr. Jacobs is an adolescent medicine physician at Stony Brook Children’s where he has worked since July 2015. His clinical and academic interests include mental health care (Anxiety, Depression, ADHD), sexual and reproductive health, care provided to youth with chronic illnesses, and care of transgender and other gender and sexual minorities.

This article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature. Always consult your healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance and treatment.