Recognizing teen depression
One in five teenagers have depression at some point. Your teen may be depressed if they are feeling sad, blue, unhappy, or down in the dumps. Depression is a serious problem, even more so if these feelings have taken over your teen's life.
Your teen is more at risk for depression if:
- Mood disorders run in your family.
- They experience a stressful life event like a death in the family, divorcing parents, bullying, a break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or failing in school.
- They have low self-esteem and are very critical of themselves.
- Your teen is a girl. Teen girls are twice as likely as boys to have depression.
- Your teen has trouble being social.
- Your teen has learning disabilities.
- Your teen has a chronic illness.
- There are family problems or problems with their parents.
Know the Symptoms of Depression
If your teen is depressed, you may see some of the following common symptoms of depression. If these symptoms last for 2 weeks or longer, talk to your teen's health care provider.
- Frequent irritability with sudden bursts of anger.
- More sensitive to criticism.
- Complaints of headaches, stomach aches or other body problems. Your teen may go to the nurse's office at school a lot.
- Withdrawal from people like parents or some friends.
- Not enjoying activities they usually like.
- Feeling tired for much of the day.
- Sad or blue feelings most of the time.
Notice changes in your teen's daily routines that can be a sign of depression. Your teen's daily routines can change when they are depressed. You may notice that your teen has:
- Trouble sleeping or is sleeping more than normal
- A change in eating habits, such as not being hungry or eating more than usual
- A hard time concentrating
- Problems making decisions
Changes in your teen's behavior may also be a sign of depression. They could be having problems at home or school:
- Drop in school grades, attendance, not doing homework
- High-risk behaviors, such as reckless driving, unsafe sex, or shoplifting
- Pulling away from family and friends and spends more time alone
- Drinking or using drugs
Teens with depression may also have:
- Anxiety disorders
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders (bulimia or anorexia)
Bring Your Teen to a Health Care Provider
If you are worried that your teen is depressed, see a health care provider. The provider may perform a physical exam and order blood tests to make sure your teen does not have a medical problem.
The provider should talk to your teen about:
- Their sadness, irritability, or loss of interest in normal activities
- Signs of other mental health problems, such as anxiety, mania, or schizophrenia
- Risk of suicide or other violence and whether your teen is a danger to themselves or others
The provider should ask about drug or alcohol abuse. Depressed teens are at risk for:
- Heavy drinking
- Regular marijuana (pot) smoking
- Other drug use
The provider may speak with other family members or your teen's teachers. These people can often help identify signs of depression in teenagers.
Be alert to any signs of suicide plans. Notice if your teen is:
- Giving possessions to others
- Saying good-bye to family and friends
- Talking about dying or committing suicide
- Writing about dying or suicide
- Having a personality change
- Taking big risks
- Withdrawing and wanting to be alone
Call your provider or a suicide hotline right away if you are worried that your teen is thinking about suicide. Never ignore a suicide threat or attempt.
Call 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-999-9999. You can call 24/7 anywhere in the United States.
Identify Your Teen's Depression Early
Most teenagers feel down sometimes. Having support and good coping skills helps teens through down periods.
Talk with your teen often. Ask them about their feelings. Talking about depression will not make the situation worse, and may help them to get help sooner.
Get your teen professional help to deal with low moods. Treating depression early may help them feel better sooner, and may prevent or delay future episodes.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your provider, if you notice any of the following in your teen:
- Depression is not improving or is getting worse
- Nervousness, irritability, moodiness, or sleeplessness that is new or getting worse
- Side effects of medicines
American Psychiatric Association. Major depressive disorder. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2013:160-168.
Bostic JQ, Prince JB, Buxton DC. Child and adolescent psychiatric disorders. In: Stern TA, Fava M, Wilens TE, Rosenbaum JF, eds. Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 69.
Siu AL; US Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for depression in children and adolescents: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2016;164(5):360-366. PMID: 26858097 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26858097/.
Review Date: 11/7/2020
Reviewed By: Fred K. Berger, MD, addiction and forensic psychiatrist, Scripps Memorial Hospital, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.