Depression in Teens: Signs and How to Help

The teen years are tough. There is no doubt that our youth face a number of challenges during a very insecure phase of their lives; however, most adolescents are able to balance the anxiety with good friendships, strong families, success in school or activities, and the process of developing a strong sense of self. As parents, teachers, coaches or other community leaders, we can expect the youth we interact with to have occasional bad moods, acting out, or melancholy. But depression is something different, and if left untreated, it can lead to a variety of problems.

Although depression is highly treatable, experts say that 1 out of every 8 teens has depression and only 20% of depressed teens ever receive help. When adults feel depressed, they have the ability to go seek help and they can do it privately if they choose. On the other hand, youth must rely on parents, teachers, or other caregivers to recognize their suffering and get them the treatment they need. So if you have an adolescent in your life, it’s important to learn what teen depression looks like and what to do if you spot the warning signs.

What Are the Symptoms of Depression?

Teenagers face a host of pressures, from the changes of puberty to questions about who they are to asserting their independence with their parents. With all this drama, it can be difficult to distinguish between depression and normal teenage moodiness. Adding to the confusion, teens with depression do not necessarily appear sad, nor do they always withdraw from others. For some depressed teens, symptoms of irritability, aggression, and rage are more prominent. Sometimes the only sign is a noticeable change in their thinking and behavior. They may have no motivation, sleep excessively, have a change in eating habits, or even exhibit criminal behaviors such as DUI or shoplifting.

Symptoms that people have when they’re depressed can include:

  • depressed mood or sadness most of the time (for what may seem like no reason)
  • lack of energy and feeling tired all the time
  • inability to enjoy things that used to bring pleasure
  • withdrawal from friends and family
  • irritability, anger, or anxiety
  • inability to concentrate and/or memory loss
  • significant weight loss or gain
  • significant change in sleep patterns (inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or get up in the morning)
  • irresponsible behavior — for example, forgetting obligations, being late for classes, skipping school or sudden drop in grades
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • difficulty making decisions
  • complaints of pains, including headaches, stomachaches, low back pain, or fatigue (with no known medical cause)
  • pessimism and indifference (not caring about anything in the present or future)
  • thoughts of death or suicide

When someone has five or more of these symptoms most of the time for 2 weeks or longer, that person is probably depressed.

Helping a depressed teenager

If you suspect that a teenager in your life is suffering from depression, take action right away. Many times, adults do not feel certain that the youth they’re concerned about is depressed and are afraid of making things worse or they hope that the symptoms will just go away. But honestly, even if the troublesome behaviors and emotions you’re seeing are not depression, they are signs of a problem that needs to be addressed. Depression is very damaging when left untreated, but it’s also one of the most treatable conditions. Therapists and other professionals can help. In fact, about 80% of people who get help for their depression have a better quality of life.

Here are some resources:

Covenant House’s Nineline

National Suicide Hotline

Guidelines (NJ Suicide Hotline)

In Somerset County, New Jersey, try:
Family and Community Services

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