Recognizing Signs of Depression in Teens
Many parents and adults believe that symptoms and signs of depression in adolescents look essentially the same as those associated with adult depression. We’re not surprised to experience our teens having trouble sleeping, lacking energy or becoming withdrawn. But while certain expectations may hold true for some youth, others dealing with depression may be irritable or rage-filled. They may cause trouble at school. They may not even feel or demonstrate sadness. Instead, their depression might be expressed as rage. The biggest mistake we can make here is to think this rage is just an adolescent stage.
Some teens tell us even the word depression can feel embarrassing, and they may try and hide any symptoms to avoid further scrutiny. Teenagers may be embarrassed at the thought of needing help or counseling. They may not even know help is available. They rely on us to recognize signs they need help and to get them treatment.
If you have a teen, it’s important to recognize possible signs of depression, especially since they aren’t always obvious or clear.
Be on Alert
If teens show one of the signs below, don’t panic. Think of it as a signal that it’s time to check in.
And while these signs can be red flags, no list is complete. You know your child. If something about your tweens or teens seem different or out of sorts, trust your intuition and talk with them. It may be something easily manageable or it could be a sign of depression. If you have any concerns, seek help from a professional.
Possible Signs of Depression in Teens
- Hopelessness or sadness
- Anger or irritability
- Rage or outbursts
- Isolation/withdrawal from friends and/or family
- Slipping school performance
- Lack of energy, enthusiasm, or motivation
- Constant fatigue
- Weight gain or loss
- Loss of appetite
- Sleep issues (e.g. nightmares, trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or sleeping too much)
- Drug, alcohol or cigarette use
- Returning to less mature behaviors (e.g. tantrums, needing instant gratification, being defensive)
- Change in eating habits
- A new circle of friends with undesirable behaviors
- Radically new style of dress (e.g. suddenly dressing in a style that would push many people away)
- Change or deterioration in grooming habits
- Physical symptoms (e.g. belly pain, headaches, fatigue, chest pain)
- Unexplained physical aches and pains
- Missing school because of frequent physical symptoms
- Frequent crying
- Trouble concentrating
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Thoughts of death
- Thoughts of suicide (Note of extreme importance: expressions of suicide should never be minimized as attention-seeking. They should always be addressed. Also, asking children if they have been thinking about hurting themselves, does not put ideas in their heads. If you have a concern, always check in.)
Adolescent depression is more than just moodiness. As with adults, if left untreated it can become a serious problem impacting their lives. It can also affect the lives of those who love and care for them.
Depression is Treatable
If you’re not sure whether your teen is suffering from depression or just dealing with teenage growing pains, consider how long they have been acting this way. How different are they from the way they normally act? Ask yourself if the symptoms and signs are persistent or ongoing? Are they severe? Ask teachers and coaches if they have concerns. Don’t be afraid to directly ask your teen. Say, “I care about you. I’m worried about you. I’m not sure how you’re feeling about yourself. Can we talk about how you’re feeling?” If you’re sensing there is a problem, discuss it with a professional. Even if it is not full-blown depression, sometimes seeing a professional a few times to discuss a problem or difficult situation can be helpful.
Depression is treatable. If depression isn’t treated, it can create unnecessary pain, interfere with healthy growth and development, and even be life-threatening. If you’re concerned your teens are struggling or dealing with depression, talk with them and consult a professional for additional help. Don’t ignore the problem.
Again, depression is treatable!
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If you are concerned about your child’s safety, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or text START to 741-741
We want to thank Dr. Victor Schwartz at the JED Foundation for reviewing this article and offering helpful feedback.