Five Warning Signs of Depression in Teens

Warning Signs of Depression in Teens

Depression is a mental illness that can affect anyone at any time.  Depression in teens has historically not been taken very seriously.  We now know that depression and other mood disorders are common in both adults and adolescents.  Adolescents may be at higher risk for developing depression if they:

  • have been involved with domestic violence (either a victim or a witness)
  • have another mental health condition like an anxiety disorder or a mood disorder
  • have ongoing or chronic pain or illness
  • have a learning disability

Teenagers may show signs of depression that are different from adults, but they still have various symptoms to watch out for.  While these depression symptoms vary from individual to individual, these five warning signs may help parents to identify the problem – and help them get help from a mental health professional.

See Also: Applied Behavior Analysis in the Treatment of Depression

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What are the Different Types of Depression in Teens?

What are the Different Types of Depression in Teens?

There are several common types of depression teens may experience.  While these types describe certain patterns of symptoms, each individual is different.  These common types include:

Major Depressive Disorder: MDD is the most common form of depression in a teen’s life.  Teens may experience changes in appetite, sleep patterns or concentration.  It can significantly impair daily functioning.

Persistent Depressive Disorder: This type of depression is less severe but is a longer-lasting form of low mood.  Diagnostic criteria require teens to have a depressed mood most of the time for at least two years, along with other symptoms of depression.  While symptoms are not categorized as severe, they can still have a significant impact.

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder: This is a relatively new diagnosis that impacts both children and teens.  It is characterized by severe temper outbursts that are out of proportion to the situation at hand.  DMDD is associated with persistent irritability.

Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes extreme mood swings between depression and mania. Teens show signs of depression during depressive episodes.  During manic episodes, they may have high energy or impulsiveness.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD: This type of depression in teens has a seasonal pattern.  It typically occurs during the fall and winter months, when there is less sunlight.  Teens may experience symptoms of depression including low energy and changes in sleep or appetite.

See Also: 5 Goals of EMDR Therapy

Five Warning Signs of Depression in Adolescence

  • Hopelessness
  • Feelings and Expression of Suicidal Ideation
  • Lack of Interest
  • Low Self-Esteem
  • Changes in Appetite


Hopelessness is one of the most common indicators of teen depression. Sometimes people don’t show hopelessness, but saying things like “nothing matters” can be a sign. There are other ways in which hopelessness manifests in teen depression including:

  • Negative Self-Perception: Teens may have a distorted view of themselves.  They may believe that they are worthless or unlovable which can contribute to low self-esteem.  They may turn to substance abuse as a way to numb these feelings.
  • Cognitive Distortions: Hopelessness may manifest through distorted thinking patterns. Some examples are expecting the worst, making negative conclusions based on limited experiences, and focusing on negative events.
  • Withdrawal and Isolation: Teens might pull away from social activities or friends/family.  They may feel others cannot understand their pain.
  • Physical Symptoms: Teen depression can cause changes in sleep patterns, fatigue, or aches and pains.

Feelings and Expression of Suicidal Ideation

Suicidal ideation is one of the clearest indicators of depression in teens. The teen might express their desire to die.  They may even talk about ways they’ve considered ending their life.  Sometimes, people have thoughts of suicide because of difficult situations like losing a loved one.  But with depression, these thoughts can happen regularly.  Depression is often hallmarked by regular suicidal ideation in either the conceptual phase or the planning phase. If the teen has expressed either conceptual or planning phases, or engaged in suicide attempts, they should be receiving appropriate help from a professional.

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Lack of Interest

Teen depression signs also include anhedonia, or lack of interest in activities that were once enjoyable. They may also lose interest in social interactions with friends or favorite hobbies.  They may also lose interest in school performance or avoid going to school all together.  They may avoid fulfilling other responsibilities, even ones they took seriously or enjoyed carrying out.  Depression often involves negative thought patterns which contribute to lack of interest.  Teens may believe that they are incapable of enjoying activities, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle.

Low Self-Esteem

Extreme low self-esteem is another central hallmark of teenage depression. They may be extraordinarily self-critical, saying things like “I’m so ugly” or “I’m worthless” or “I’m not good at anything.” They may also be totally unresponsive to those who try to reassure them that these statements are not true. Many teenagers struggle with low self-esteem, especially if they’re not popular.  When low self-esteem is combined with other signs of depression, it can indicate a serious problem.

Changes in Appetite

Sudden and even dramatic changes in appetite may indicate depression. Overeating, or barely eating anything at all, can be a strong indication when paired with other symptoms that the teen is suffering from depression. Changes in appetite may also herald the development of eating disorders, which teens are at significant risk for – and have high comorbidity with depression.

How is Teen Depression Treated?

How is Teen Depression Treated?

Adolescent depression can be effectively treated through a combination of therapeutic approaches, lifestyle changes, and, in some cases, medication.  According to research information shared by Mental Health America, as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression.  Severe depression may last for months, like major depressive disorder, or be milder and go on for years, such as dysthymia.

Some teens who experience depression can get relief by making lifestyle changes.  These can include getting regular exercise and adequate sleep.  Eating a healthy diet rich in nutrients can also contribute to an improved mood.  Teaching teens stress management techniques such as meditation or deep breathing can help them prioritize self-care.

Teens need support to overcome depression.  Involving the family members in treatment can be important.  Family therapy can help improve communication and address any conflicts.  Teachers and school counselors can also provide support to students who may exhibit signs of depression.  This support could include flexible schedules or academic accommodations that align with the students’ needs.  Social support is also important.  Teens should be encouraged to maintain social connections and engage in positive social interactions to combat isolation and improve their mood.

While talk therapy and lifestyle changes help many teens who struggle with depression, sometimes antidepressant medications are needed to help the symptoms.  A doctor or psychiatrist may order medication when other forms of treatment have not been as effective as they would like or in cases when the depression is severe.  There are risks associated with antidepressants that include:

  • side effects
  • increased risk of suicidal thoughts
  • long tern effects of the medication

Teens who take antidepressants should be monitored closely for side effects.  Regular follow-up appointments with a doctor are essential to monitor the teen’s response to the medication and adjust the dose where needed.

Teens exhibiting any or all of these symptoms with measurable frequency may be at risk for or already suffering from depression. Depression is a debilitating illness, and often affects sufferers for their entire lives. However, appropriate management of this illness and treatment can make depression easier to live with, in addition to preserving life and increasing its quality and joy for years to come.

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