Teen Depression: Warning Signs and Symptoms or Teen Depression: What Parents Need to Know

Teen Depression: Warning Signs and Symptoms or Teen Depression: What Parents Need to Know


sad girlDepression is the number one cause of illness and disability in adolescents worldwide. This is according to World Health Organization (see link below) who released these alarming statistics in May 2014. One of the reasons for the increase in depression among teens is due to the misunderstanding that many adults in their lives have about the disease. Teens who are suffering from depression often do so silently, as many adults in their life brush it off as a “phase”— when it’s actually an illness. “The world has not paid enough attention to the health of adolescents,” says Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General for Family, Women and Children’s Health. “If adolescents with mental health problems get the care they need, this can prevent deaths and avoid suffering throughout life.”

In the United States, fewer than half of adolescents with a mental health problem receive treatment. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2011, 1.4 million girls ages 12-17 in the United States experienced an episode of depression. Many parents are late to the game, waiting until symptoms become overwhelming, debilitating, or even deadly—look for the signs before the suffering becomes intolerable.

Could Your Teen Be Depressed?

Teen depression signs and symptoms include changes in your teen’s emotions and behavior. It is typical for teens appear as though they are on a roller-coaster in terms of their emotions, but when the dips feel too frequent, or you feel that the bad mood just isn’t going away, it’s time to get some professional help. As observers, you are likely to notice if something is off or awry—don’t doubt your parenting instincts!

It’s not known exactly what causes depression. A variety of factors may be involved. These include:

  • Brain Chemistry. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that likely play a role in depression. When these chemicals are out of balance, due to genetics, stress, diet, or inherited neurochemistry, depression symptoms often surface.
  • Hormones. Changes in the body’s balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression. Hormone often become balanced when biochemistry is balanced.
  • Inherited traits. Depression is more common in people whose biological (blood) relatives also have the condition.
  • Early childhood trauma. Traumatic events during childhood, such as physical or emotional abuse, or loss of a parent, may cause changes in the brain that make a person more susceptible to depression.
  • Environmental stressors. The teen years are tough, and most young adults don’t come equipped with a guidebook or coping skills to handle it all. Many teens don’t have a clue how to bounce back from friendship shifts, peer group drama, or have the stamina to keep up with the pressure that persist through the high school years. Without coping skills and self-esteem many teens feel more than just exhaustion, they may feel hopeless.
  • Learned patterns of negative thinking. Teen depression may be linked to learning to feel helpless — rather than learning to feel capable of finding solutions for life’s challenges.

Watch for changes in behavior, such as:

  • Spending excess time alone, away from family and friends
  • Web searches for depression, suicide, or following social media handles that are provocative (pictures of self-harm, eating disorders, or suicidal topics)
  • Conversations focus on hopelessness, (What’s the point?) or are predominantly self-loathing (I’m not good enough).
  • Lack in confidence or ability; avoiding activities she used to enjoy or excel in; fearful of what others will think; speaks with self-doubt
  • Anxiety; unable to let go of thoughts, preoccupation on the future or overly concerned with the past, or engaging in anxiety-driven behaviors (picking skin, grinding teeth, self-harm, scratching, inability to sit still).
  • Inability to be alone with their own thoughts. You may notice that they have to constantly be connected to friends or strangers online, needing to be around people physically, or always be physically or virtually connected.
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much—often lethargic or less energetic than they used to be
  • Changes in appetite, such as decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Change in school performance, abrupt change in peer groups, or frequent absences from school.

If you are worried your teen is suffering from depression please contact your doctor, a mental health professional, or school counselor to learn more. To speak to one of our mental health professionals go to the contact page and give us a call. The sooner treatment begins the better the outcome will be for your child and your family.

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–Emily Roberts, MA, LPC