Teen Depression: Symptoms and Tips for Parents

Could your teen be depressed? Although we are learning more about depression, it's hard to know if a teen is depressed -- the quest for independence, 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, but especially in 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
  • Self-harm, such as cutting
  • 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, exaggerated reactions, 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
  • Increased sleeping
  • 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:

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


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.

Are there warning signs of teen suicide?

Four out of 5 teens who attempt suicide give clear-cut signs. Here are warning signs every parent must know:

  • Obsessing about death
  • Open suicide threats
  • Writing poems or drawing about death
  • A change in appearance or mood
  • Defiant behavior
  • Acting violently
  • Feelings of guilt
  • A change in sleep or eating habits
  • Giving away belongings
  • Staying away from people and activities

If your teen hints of suicide, seek help immediately. Never hesitate to call a suicide hotline or go to the ER.

You can call 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433) or 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255) to speak with a qualified professional.

With proper treatment and support, teens who consider suicide can get well and return to a healthy life.

Are there tips for parents of teens with depression?

Parenting a teen with depression is not easy. These tips may help:

  • Seek proper treatment. If your teen has emotions that seem abnormal, talk to your doctor. When teen depression goes undiagnosed and untreated, the teen may try to ease the feelings with drugs, alcohol, or suicide.
  • Get involved in family therapy. Family therapy can help the teen and family to understand depression. Therapy can help members learn coping skills to handle any moods or behaviors linked to depression.
  • Listen to your teen. Avoid offering advice. Instead, listen and try to uncover problems that may be upsetting your teen.
  • Make sure your teen has consistent bedtimes. A study from Columbia University Medical Center showed teens with earlier bedtimes get more sleep and have fewer cases of depression and thoughts of suicide. Teens should get around nine hours of sleep every night, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM).

Be aware of the FDA warning that antidepressants may increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in teens with depression. Children and teens who are started on antidepressants should be monitored for these behaviors. Talk with your health care provider about any concerns you may have.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on December 20, 2020



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American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: ''Teen Suicide.''

National Institute of Mental Health: ''Treatment for Adolescents with Depression Study.'' and ''Antidepressant Medications for Children and Adolescents.''

Columbia University Medical Center: ''Study Links Later Parental-Mandated Bedtimes for Teens with Depression & Suicidal Thoughts.''

SleepEducation.com: ''Teen Bedtimes: Parent Tips.''

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