How to Spot 5 Signs of Depression in Teenagers


The teen years are infamous for being difficult, which is why many parents don’t even consider whether their child is suffering from teen depression. Teenagers are frequently moody and emotional. They often can’t grasp what behavior is typical and what’s not.

But according to the National Institutes of Health, one in five teens experience depression before they reach adulthood. So how can you tell when your teenager’s behavior is normal teen angst or something more serious? Read on to recognize five signs of depression in teenagers and how adolescent depression is treated.

Signs of Depression in Teenagers

1. Lack of Energy

Depression causes physical symptoms, including fatigue. Your teen may not be sleeping or perhaps sleeps too much. She complains about feeling tired. A depressed teen may frequently miss school or go to the school nurse because of inexplicable pains, like body aches, stomachaches, or headaches. Along with these symptoms, teens may lose or gain weight.

2. Withdrawal or Aggression and Acting Out

depressed teenTeens with depression often withdraw from friends and/or family. They lose interest in their usual activities. They isolate themselves, stay home more, spend excessive time online, or quit sports or clubs because they no longer enjoy them. But not all depressed teens completely isolate themselves. They may drop some friends or form new relationships with others who pose a negative influence.

Rather than withdrawing, some depressed teenagers lash out aggressively against their friends or family. They have fits of rage, hostility, or irritability. Conflicts can become intense, leaving parents to wonder, “Where is this coming from?” Other behavioral changes include risky choices like dangerous driving, sexual promiscuity, or drug or alcohol use to bury pain they’re experiencing.

3. Poor Self-Esteem

Depressed teenagers experience emotional changes, including their self-worth. They feel worthless, guilty, ugly, or shameful. You may notice they fixate on their failures or overly criticize and blame themselves. Their outlook on life becomes negative.

Does your teen constantly need reassurance or overreact to criticism, failure, or rejection? Check for evidence of self-harm behaviors, like excessive appearance of blood-splotched tissues in the bathroom or bedroom trashcan or refusal to expose arms or wrists. These symptoms reflect poor self-esteem at a time when they should be forming positive self-worth.

4. Lack of Concentration

teen boy carrying schoolbagDifficulty making decisions, concentrating, or remembering things can signal depression. Your teen may speak or think slowly. Homework doesn’t get done, simple decisions seem overwhelming, chores or other responsibilities are forgotten. Their grades may fall. They act restless or agitated. Ask your teen if life seems too overwhelming. Is your teen able to manage challenging emotions, such as anger or sadness?

5. Suicidal Thoughts

Depressed teens may have frequent thoughts of death or suicide. Some share their thoughts of suicide with family or friends. But if your teen isn’t opening up to you, how do you know? These are some warning signs teens may exhibit if they’re contemplating suicide:

  • Positive remarks about death or wishing they were dead or gone; romanticizing the idea of death (thinking others would be better off without them or if their friends would miss them if they died)
  • Getting rid of important belongings
  • Looking for ways to commit suicide, like pills or guns
  • Reaching out to loved ones to say goodbye
  • Writing about death or suicide
  • “Death wish” types of behavior that are reckless or result in getting hurt repeatedly
  • Immediately seek medical assistance if your teenager threatens to harm himself or you suspect he’s planning to hurt himself.

Diagnosing & Treating Teen Depression

depressed teenMore than 65 percent of depressed teenagers don’t receive treatment. If your teen’s symptoms interfere with his daily activities or are worsening, it’s time to see your child’s physician or a mental health care professional for a depression screening. Anti-depressants may help depression but are often combined with individual or group therapy. Review treatment options and make sure your teenager has input. If he doesn’t like his counselor, consider choosing another one instead of forcing him to consistently face someone he doesn’t like.

The Light Program offers group and individual counseling for teenagers with mental health disorders. Contact us at (610) 644-6464 to find out how we can offer your child help and hope!