Teens are exposed to constant stress, including stress from peer pressure, school expectations and puberty. As a result of this stress, teens can develop depression, which affects everything from their emotions to physical health.
As a parent or caregiver, you play a big role in looking for the signs and symptoms of teen depression, and in helping them through it.
Common Signs of Teen Depression
The signs and symptoms of teen depression are both emotional and behavioral. Emotional changes you may see can include:
- • Irritability, annoyance or frustration, even over trivial things
- • Major sadness, including random crying spells
- • Loss of interest in family, friends or normal hobbies
- • Thoughts of suicide or death
- • Trouble concentrating, focusing on tasks and remembering things
- • Low self-esteem, feelings of guilt and fixating on past disappointments
In many cases, these emotional changes manifest themselves in observable behavior changes. These can include:
- • Low energy, tiredness, insomnia or sleeping too much
- • Anger, risky behavior and other forms of “acting out,” including drug or alcohol use
- • A suicide plan or suicide attempt
- • Changes in appetite, often accompanied by major weight loss or weight gain
- • Restless habits like hand-wringing or pacing
- • Complaints of aches or headaches
- • Isolation from social peers
- • Lack of caring about appearance
- • Significant absences from school or poor school performance
- • Self-harm, including cutting, burning or even piercing in some cases
Causes and Triggers
There are no direct known causes of depression in teens, but there are several possible factors:
- • Genetics and hormones: Depression and other mental illness is influenced by body chemistry, hormones, genetic traits and more.
- • Early trauma: Teens who went through a major trauma as a younger child, including abuse, may be at higher risk of depression.
- • Negative patterns: In some cases, depression can be “learned” in a sense—teen depression may be connected to learning to feel helpless instead of the brain’s natural problem-solving response to these sorts of negative feelings.
There are also several other risk factors and triggers that can play a role in teen depression:
- • Other conditions like bipolar disorder or anorexia
- • Poor self-esteem caused by bullying, poor academic performance, weight issues and others
- • A chronic physical illness or physical disability
- • A learning disability or ADHD
- • Being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, particularly in an environment in which an LGBT lifestyle is frowned upon
- • Abuse of drugs, alcohol or nicotine
- • Family history of depression or family issues: Things like a family history of depression, a family member who committed suicide, or even a dysfunctional family situation with stressful life events can increase risk
How to Help
While there’s no guarantee that you as a parent or caregiver can prevent depression in your teen, you can help them overcome it:
- • Offer support: Encourage teens to reach out for support when they’re struggling, whether it’s to you or a friend. This can also include support groups with other teens who have similar issues.
- • Teach healthy coping skills: Stress can contribute significantly to depression. Help your teen with their responses to stress and how they build their self-esteem back up during these periods.
- • Encourage dialogue: Depression can come with a stigma, and many teens feel uncomfortable asking for help even if they feel they need it. Be welcoming and encourage them to share their concerns with family.
- • Stay active and healthy: Part of overcoming depression involves focusing the mind elsewhere, and forming a regular exercise or sports routine can help. In addition, healthy meals and sleep can be beneficial.
- • Stay realistic: In some cases, depression is a result of teens judging themselves on a totally unrealistic set of standards, whether they’re academic, athletic or social. Remind them not to be so hard on themselves.
- • Seek treatment: Specific treatment may be right for many cases of teen depression. Your doctor can offer recommendations.
Your doctor can provide further information on combating teen depression.
My profession allows me to interact with people on a level that few other jobs would. The number one way to provide safe, effective healthcare is to educate patients and make sure I listen to and understand their story and what they want to get out of their healthcare.
“Recognizing and treating teen depression.” Dr. Leslie Greenberg’s Blog. https://drlesliegreenberg.com/2014/10/27/recognizing-and-treating-teen-depression/
“Teen depression.” The Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/teen-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20350985