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Could your teen be depressed? Although we are learning more about depression, it's hard to know if a teen is depressed -- irritability and moodiness tend to be features of normal adolescence.


What is teen depression?

Depression is a medical condition that causes psychological and physical symptoms. Depression can happen at any age, including the teen years.

About 1 in 5 teens has suffered with depression at some point. But many depressed teens do not get the right treatment. When teen depression goes untreated, the outcome may be serious, and result in:

  • Poor performance at school
  • Troubled relationships
  • Increased rates of substance abuse
  • Risky sexual behavior
  • Increased rates of physical illness
  • Increased rates of suicide attempts and completions

What are the symptoms of teen depression?

The most common symptom of depression is sadness for no apparent reason most of time. Yet, teens with depression may have signs of extreme irritability, anger, or anxiety instead.

Depressed teens often have physical complaints, such as stomachaches or headaches. These symptoms may cause absences from school or poor school performance.

Teens with depression may have changes in sleep habits with unexplained crying. They may become extremely sensitive to rejection or failure. Other symptoms may include:

  • Feeling helpless
  • Anger
  • Withdrawal from activities
  • Avoidance of peers
  • Apathy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Slow or rapid movement
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Substance abuse
  • Difficulty with authority
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions


How is teen depression diagnosed?

A depression diagnosis is based on the symptoms and the duration of symptoms. Also, the doctor will consider how the symptoms impact the teen's behavior and life.

How is teen depression treated?

Teen depression is a treatable medical problem. Combination treatment is most effective and may include:

  • Depression medications to relieve symptoms
  • Talk therapy or counseling to help teens learn new coping skills

Medications usually include antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. SSRIs that have been studied for teen depression include:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Citalopram (Celexa)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro)
  • Fluvoxamine (Luvox)

Talk therapy may include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). With CBT, professionals help teens learn how to change destructive patterns of thinking.

One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that teaching positive thinking may prevent depression in at-risk teens. Researchers found that teens can learn skills to keep negative thoughts from escalating into depression.

If a teen has severe depression, the doctor may admit the teen to a hospital for observation and treatment.

Can teen depression lead to suicide?

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens and young adults in the U.S.

When depression goes untreated, teens may think suicide is the only answer. Feelings of hopelessness may lead to impulsive but deadly acts.

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