Signs to Look for When Identifying Depression in Teens

Depression in teenagers is becoming more commonplace in the U.S. today. A Pew Research Center analysis found 13% of teens ages 12 to 17 in the US in 2017 had experienced moderate to severe depression. Those numbers are likely increasing, since studies have found that the COVID-19 pandemic has a significant impact on teen’s mental health.

How can you know if your own teen suffers from this mental health condition? Identifying depression in teens starts with educating yourself on the warning signs so that if you teen begins to display the symptoms, you will be able to recognize them.

Here is a list of ten common warning signs of teen depression. Read these and study these so that when it comes to identifying depression you will know what to look for.

1. Withdrawal from Extracurricular or Social Activities

Teenagers who were once active in sports, clubs, and other activities in and outside of school but no longer show interest in them may be suffering from depression. Disinterest or a refusal to participate in once enjoyable hobbies is a hallmark sign of this illness. If your child has dropped out or no longer wants to be part of activities he or she once enjoyed, you may have reason to suspect that he or she has depression.

2. Apathy

Apathy is another hallmark sign of depression. This symptom involves no longer caring about anyone or anything and no longer wanting to be an active part of society. Depressed teens who are apathetic to their surroundings are at a greater risk of attempting suicide or self-harming.


3. Feelings of Prolonged Sadness or Anger

Most teens are moody and prone to brief episodes of stubbornness, anger, or sadness. However, when your child exhibits any of these emotions for prolonged periods of time, you might have reason to believe that he or she is suffering from depression.

Depression itself often entails extended bouts of sadness or anger. These emotions can be kept in check with counseling and antidepressant medications.

4. Avoidance of Friends and Peers

Teens who are depressed often want nothing to do with their friends or peers at school. They do not want anyone to try to cheer them up or coax them out of their depressive episodes. They would rather stay away from everyone altogether.

If you see your child avoiding friends or no longer wanting to be around people his or her age, it may be time to have your teen evaluated for depression. With professional mental health treatment, your teen may soon once again enjoy being around his or her peers and look forward to being with friends.

5. Poor Academic Performance

Another warning sign to lookout for when identifying depression in your teen is poor academic performance. If your once straight-A student suddenly starts getting Ds and Fs at school, you may have just cause to suspect depression as the underlying reason.

By closely monitoring your child’s academic progress in school, you can detect depressive symptoms and initiate treatment for the condition promptly. Early treatment can head off more severe symptoms later and help your child get back on track at school.

6. Substance Abuse

Just like adults, teenagers figure out fairly early that they can numb their pain and emotions with alcohol or drugs. Rather than confront the underlying cause of their mental illness, they sometimes prefer to get high or drunk to escape the emotional torment.

As a parent of a depressed teenager, you face twice the proverbial battle if your child starts to abuse drugs or alcohol. You have to help him or her stop abusing these substances along with getting your teen help for depression.

Still, professional treatment is available for both issues. Rather than assume that this substance abuse is just a normal part of teenagehood or signs of rebelliousness, you should recognize it as a possible warning sign of depression and get your child the help he or she needs now.

7. Low Self-esteem

Depressed teenagers often have very low opinions of themselves. They do not think they are worthy of anything and thus will start to refer to themselves in the lowest terms possible.

When you hear your child speak lowly of himself or herself, you should consider the fact that these words stem from a burgeoning mental illness like depression. With proper help, your child can begin to view himself or herself in a new light and overcome these feelings of low self-esteem.

8. Risky Sexual Behavior

Promiscuity and risky sexual behavior are signs that your teen may be struggling with depression. As mentioned, teens with this illness often feel so low about themselves that they think they are worth nothing.

To mask their pain and to bolster their self-confidence, they may become sexually active and even promiscuous. They falsely believe that they gain value through this type of attention. Instead, they are putting themselves at risk for STDs, pregnancy, and other dangers.

Rather than scold or punish your child for this behavior, it is important that you find out the underlying cause for it. You can then seek out the right level of help for your child’s depression.

9. Suicidal Thoughts

When identifying depression, be sure to look out for suicide warning signs as well. Teenagers with severe depression often fantasize or talk about committing suicide. Their fascination or desire to kill themselves stems not so much from a genuine desire to die than a desperate need to end their emotional or mental pain.

If you witness your child entertaining suicidal fantasies, it is critical that you get him or her the help your child needs immediately. Suicidal idealization is a health emergency and one that should be taken with utmost seriousness. You should not delay in contacting your child’s primary care doctor, a suicide hotline, or 911 to initiate the treatment process for your child’s depression.

10. Changes in Eating Habits

Finally, overeating or avoidance of eating altogether are signs that your teen might have depression. Depressed teens may eat to relieve stress and to numb their pain. Alternatively, they might not feel hungry very often and refuse to eat even their favorite snacks or meals.

In Conclusion

Paying close attention to your teen and being in tune with them is key to identifying depression. Any of these warning signs merit prompt attention from you as the parent. Depression in teens is highly treatable with options like counseling and the use of antidepressants. It is critical that you get help for your teen as early as possible and avoid downplaying any of these symptoms if you want to give your child the best chances of overcoming this increasingly common mental health condition in teenagers.