Depression

Parent's Guide to Teen Depression - Helpguide.org / A Harvard Health Collaboration

If you see signs of depression in your teen, seek help from a medical professional.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF TEEN DEPRESSION

Teenagers face a host of pressures, from the changes of puberty to questions about who they are and where they fit in. The natural transition from child to adult can also bring parental conflict as teens start to assert their independence. With all this drama, it isn’t always easy to differentiate between depression and normal teenage moodiness. Making things even more complicated, teens with depression do not necessarily appear sad, nor do they always withdraw from others. For some depressed teens, symptoms of irritability, aggression, and rage are more prominent.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF DEPRESSION IN TEENS

  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Tearfulness or frequent crying
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
If you’re unsure if an adolescent in your life is depressed or just “being a teenager,” consider how long the symptoms have been present, how severe they are, and how different the teen is acting from his or her usual self. While some “growing pains” are to be expected as teenagers grapple with the challenges of growing up, dramatic, long-lasting changes in personality, mood, or behavior are red flags of a deeper problem.

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EFFECTS OF TEEN DEPRESSION

The negative effects of teenage depression go far beyond a melancholy mood. Many rebellious and unhealthy behaviors or attitudes in teenagers are actually indications of depression. The following are some the ways in which teens “act out” or “act in” in an attempt to cope with their emotional pain:

  • Problems at school. Depression can cause low energy and concentration difficulties. At school, this may lead to poor attendance, a drop in grades, or frustration with schoolwork in a formerly good student.
  • Running away. Many depressed teens run away from home or talk about running away. Such attempts are usually a cry for help.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse. Teens may use alcohol or drugs in an attempt to “self-medicate” their depression. Unfortunately, substance abuse only makes things worse.
  • Low self-esteem. Depression can trigger and intensify feelings of ugliness, shame, failure, and unworthiness.
  • Internet addiction. Teens may go online to escape their problems, but excessive computer use only increases their isolation, making them more depressed.
  • Reckless behavior. Depressed teens may engage in dangerous or high-risk behaviors, such as reckless driving, out-of-control drinking, and unsafe sex.
  • Violence. Some depressed teens—usually boys who are the victims of bullying—become violent. As in the case of the Columbine and Newtown school massacres, self-hatred and a wish to die can erupt into violence and homicidal rage.

Teen depression is also associated with a number of other mental health problems, including eating disorders and self-injury.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN TEENAGE AND ADULT DEPRESSION

Depression in teens can look very different from depression in adults. The following symptoms of depression are more common in teenagers than in their adult counterparts:

  • Irritable or angry mood – As noted above, irritability, rather than sadness, is often the predominant mood in depressed teens. A depressed teenager may be grumpy, hostile, easily frustrated, or prone to angry outbursts.
  • Unexplained aches and pains – Depressed teens frequently complain about physical ailments such as headaches or stomachaches. If a thorough physical exam does not reveal a medical cause, these aches and pains may indicate depression.
  • Extreme sensitivity to criticism – Depressed teens are plagued by feelings of worthlessness, making them extremely vulnerable to criticism, rejection, and failure. This is a particular problem for “over-achievers.”
  • Withdrawing from some, but not all people – While adults tend to isolate themselves when depressed, teenagers usually keep up at least some friendships. However, teens with depression may socialize less than before, pull away from their parents, or start hanging out with a different crowd.

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SUICIDE WARNING SIGNS IN TEENAGERS

TEENAGERS AND SUICIDE

If you suspect that a teenager you know is suicidal, take immediate action! For 24-hour suicide prevention and support in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

To find a suicide helpline outside the U.S., visit IASP or Suicide.org.

To learn more about suicide risk factors, warning signs, and what to do in a crisis, read Suicide Prevention.

Seriously depressed teens often think about, speak of, or make "attention-getting" attempts at suicide. But an alarming and increasing number of teenage suicide attempts are successful, so suicidal thoughts or behaviors should always be taken very seriously.

For the overwhelming majority of suicidal teens, depression or another psychological disorder plays a primary role. In depressed teens who also abuse alcohol or drugs, the risk of suicide is even greater. Because of the very real danger of suicide, teenagers who are depressed should be watched closely for any signs of suicidal thoughts or behavior.

SUICIDE WARNING SIGNS IN DEPRESSED TEENS

  • Talking or joking about committing suicide
  • Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.”
  • Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more”)
  • Writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide
  • Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for the last time
  • Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves
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