Parent’s Guide to Recognizing Depression in Teens

Many teens go through periods of time when they feel down and blue. If these feelings persist for longer than two weeks or they are impacting your teen’s daily life, depression might be to blame. Depression is a common mental health disorder, and it often begins during late adolescence (ages 15 to 19). As a parent, it’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms and signs of depression in teens. Because depression can get worse and, in severe cases, lead to suicide, getting treatment earlier rather than later is key. There are reliable treatments available; you just need to be prepared to seek help for your teen.

This guide to recognizing depression in teens will teach you the symptoms to look out for and provide you with information on what to do if your teen is in fact suffering from this mental health disorder.

Emotional Symptoms of Depression in Teens

You might assume that a teen struggling with depression will be sad and tearful all the time. This can be the case, but there is a range of other emotions that are common with depression.

One is hopelessness or despair; your teen might feel like nothing will ever get better.

Another is guilt; your child might feel guilty about things that are not their fault at all.

Frustration and anger are other symptoms of depression in teens. Boys, in particular, might react with rage to seemingly innocuous situations. They might overreact to what you think might be a mildly disappointing or frustrating experience. A depressed teen might exhibit signs of violence from the anger that they are facing as part of the condition.

Physical Symptoms of Depression in Teens

Depression can cause a host of physical symptoms. A depressed teen will often have appetite and sleep changes. Often, they will sleep too much and find it very difficult to get out of bed in the morning. They might even spend the whole day in bed. Other adolescents with depression will deal with insomnia and won’t be able to sleep. They might be up into the wee hours of the night and then sleep all day long. Depression can reduce a teen’s appetite, so weight loss might occur; on the other hand, some with the condition will find themselves eating more.

People with depression also tend to suffer from lethargy and fatigue. They might have headaches, stomachaches, and other symptoms. Because these are symptoms that are common to many mild illnesses, they might be diagnosed with gastrointestinal issues, migraines, or other physical health concerns rather than with depression.

Social and Behavioral Symptoms of Depression in Teens

Many teens with depression will begin to isolate themselves. They might stop going out with friends and might stop communicating with people via phone or Internet. Some will begin to use their smartphone excessively, depending on it for distraction. They might stop trying to achieve good grades and you might see a drastic drop in their GPA. Your teen might even stop participating in family activities and might have excuses why they don’t want to come to dinner or go out to a movie or a baseball game with the family.

Other times, teens with depression will begin to act out. They might turn to substances like drugs or alcohol, causing them to drop their current friends in favor of those who also abuse substances. They might engage in risky behavior like driving while under the influence or having unprotected sex.

Depression and Suicide

Suicide is not uncommon among teens; it’s a leading cause of death in young people. For this reason, it’s vital that parents recognize the symptoms that depression might be spiraling into suicidal ideation. If your teen says that they wish they were dead or that you would be better off without them, take it seriously.

Another symptom of suicidal ideation is an obsession with weapons. Firearms, hanging, and drug overdoses are the most common ways that teens attempt suicide. If your teen is looking into different types of guns or what kinds of pills can cause death, it’s time to get them help. Giving away their treasured possessions, saying goodbye to their friends and family, and otherwise “getting their affairs in order” are behaviors that need to be addressed immediately.

Lifestyle Changes That Can Help

Talk to your teen about his or her feelings. Listen to what they have to say and don’t discount their experiences or feelings based on how you would feel. Depression is not a disease that is based on logic; although you might not think that having an argument with a friend or getting a bad grade would cause depression in you, that doesn’t mean that your teen is wrong to take it very seriously. Sometimes, just talking and exploring feelings can help substantially.

There are lifestyle changes that might help your teen feel better, too. Make sure that they’re getting exercise, fresh air, healthy food, and enough sleep. It might seem like a big hassle for your teen to get up and get some exercise, but going for a daily walk can really improve the way they’re feeling. Note that these suggestions are meant to be in addition to, and not instead of, professional care.

Getting Help for Your Teen

If you suspect that your teen is struggling with depression and it’s not an emergency situation, then the first step is to make an appointment with his or her primary care physician. The doctor will likely run some tests to check for physical illnesses that can masquerade as depression. If your teen doesn’t have any physical issues, they’ll be referred to a mental health care provider who can treat the depression. Treatments might include medications, counseling, or a combination of the two.

If your teen is threatening or attempting to commit suicide, that’s an emergency situation. Remove any access to items that could be used in a suicide attempt and either call 911 or head to your nearest emergency room. The doctors at the hospital will evaluate your child and either admit them or arrange for them to go to an appropriate facility. Even if your teen is refusing to go to the hospital, this is one instance when you must insist on it.

Dealing with depression in teens isn’t easy, but if you are aware of the symptoms and can provide a good support system and prompt treatment, it’s very likely that they will come out of it without long-lasting repercussions.