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How Do I Know if My Teen is Depressed

What Parents Should Know About Teen Depression

By Raychelle Cassada Lohmann | Contributor Feb. 1, 2017, at 6:00 a.m.

Look for these signs and be proactive in addressing the mood disorder.

What Parents Should Know About Teen Depression


Parents shouldn't just dismiss possible signs of depression, such as teens being extremely argumentative and withdrawing from family and friends, as normal adolescent behavior. (ISTOCKPHOTO)

Are you the parent of a depressed teen? If so, you're not alone.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2015 an estimated 3 million teens in America between the ages of 12 and 17 experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past 12 months; that’s 12.5 percent of the U.S. adolescent population. An MDE is experiencing symptoms of depression, such as loss of interest in usual activities, lack of energy and hopelessness, accompanied by depressed mood for a period of two weeks or more. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, the prevalence of adolescents who reported they had an MDE in the previous year jumped from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 11.5 percent in 2014 – a 37 percent increase. Sadly, adolescent depression continues to rise.

However, despite the increase in adolescent depression, there hasn’t been a proportionate increase in mental health treatment. These teens are not receiving the professional services they need to help them cope and relieve their symptoms. Teen depression goes beyond sadness and can often manifest in anger, moodiness and isolation. Whether your teen is being moody or suffering from clinical depression can be difficult to determine, since depression can be easily mistaken for typical teen behavior.

It’s easy to dismiss adolescent behavior as a snarky attitude or being disrespectful, but perhaps there’s more to the story. What if behind the defiance, your teen is miserable, can’t remember the last time she felt happy, or worse yet, questioned whether she’d be better off dead? With these troublesome and dismal thoughts looming, your teen may know that something is wrong but not know how to talk with you about how she feels. Though it may be difficult to distinguish from teen angst, adolescent depression is real, it’s painful and it can take an emotional, mental and physical toll. The only way you can combat teen depression is to take a proactive approach.

[See: Am I Just Sad – or Actually Depressed?]

How Do Adolescents Experience Depression?

To begin to understand depression, you have to know what it is and how to differentiate it from normal teen behavior. Depression can be described as the persistent feeling of deep sadness. Most of us have felt depressed at some point in our lives. Usually these feelings come and go, but sometimes they linger for days, weeks or even months.

Depressed adults and teens may experience similar symptoms. However, those symptoms may manifest in different ways, making it hard to separate normal adolescent behavior from the behavioral changes associated with depression. For example, depressed teens may show signs of anxiety, refuse to go to school, stop talking with friends, become extremely argumentative and stay awake most of the night, but sleep all day. Many teens who aren’t depressed may exhibit some these behaviors at one time or another. The difference between typical behavior and depression is the duration, frequency and intensity as well as the implications it has on personal, social and academic functioning. Unlike adult depression, teen depression may go unnoticed and get brushed off as rebellious adolescent behavior.

How Do I know If My Teen Is Depressed?

There are some tell-tale indicators of depression. The following are some common signs and symptoms of adolescent depression:

  • pulls away from family and friends
  • seems depressed or irritable more days than not
  • disengages in things that were once fun and enjoyable
  • sleeps too much or not enough
  • eats too much or not enough resulting in weight loss or gain
  • appears lethargic and is unmotivated
  • expresses feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness
  • pays little attention to personal hygiene
  • expresses feelings of emptiness and being emotionally numb
  • lacks the ability to focus and concentrate
  • appears more argumentative and agitated than usual
  • experiences bouts of crying without reason
  • uses drugs to cope with problems
  • engages in self-injurious behavior
  • complains of stomach aches, headaches and other pains that don’t respond to treatment
  • expresses thoughts about death or suicide
  • some of these symptoms persist for two weeks or more

If you feel your teen is suffering from depression, please seek professional help immediately. Untreated depression is serious and can, in some instances, put an adolescent at risk for suicide.

[See: 9 Things to Do or Say When a Loved One Talks About Taking Their Life.]

How Can I Help My Teen Manage Depression?

If your teen is depressed, here are five things you can do right now to help him or her cope:

1. Stop and listen. Don't worry about what to say; be understanding and encouraging and let your teen know that you’re right there every step of the way. Set aside some face-to-face time each day to speak with your teen. Make sure there are no distractions during your time together, such as a vibrating cell phone or having to take dinner out of the oven. Your teen needs your unpided attention. There is nothing that can be more healing than the power of your presence.

2. Stay the course. Separate depression from your teen, and don’t let the illness push you away. Even if your teen refuses to talk, there is comfort in just sitting on the sofa together and watching Netflix. Small steps can lead to great strides.

3. Do something together. Go for a walk, play a game of one-on-one basketball or take up a new hobby, such as cooking or woodworking. Slowly reintroduce your teen to fun social activities. Keep in mind that depression may lead your teen to disengage, but with time, your teen may come around to doing the things he or she once found enjoyable.

4. Go there. Don’t steer clear of difficult topics, such as suicide or drugs. Too often parents avoid the tough conversations; but these are the exchanges that can have the most positive impact. For example, if you find your teen self-medicating with pot, discuss how marijuana is a depressant and can intensify depression. Likewise, ask your teen about thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Don’t worry about planting a seed, if the thought is there, you aren’t reinforcing it by saying it out loud. By bringing up the difficult topics, you make it clear that any subject can be discussed – and that can be comforting to a depressed teen.

5. Get help. Take your teen to see a mental health professional and stick with the treatment plan. Depression doesn’t develop overnight, and it won’t go away overnight either. Work closely with your child’s doctor and therapist, and sign a release for both to communicate with one another. These professionals will form your teen’s treatment team.

[See: How to Find the Best Mental Health Professional for You.]

With modern advancements in medication and therapy, depression can be effectively treated in 70 to 90 percent of cases. So, your teen doesn’t have to suffer in silence. There is hope, there is treatment, and there are brighter days ahead.

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