Depression in Teens

Estimated reading time: 29 minute(s)

According to a survey, up to 8 percent of teenagers struggle with depression every year, with up to 15 percent of them experiencing at least one episode until the age of 21. [1] As one of the most common psychiatric disorders, depression can cause many issues with relationships and academics while decreasing the element of fun and enjoyment in life. At its worst, the mental health disorder can even lead to suicidal tendencies and is currently among the leading causes of teenage mortalities in the United States.

Depression in teens has multiple pauses and may present in different forms. This mood disorder affects emotions instead of attitudes; hence, it may be difficult to control or control. At the same time, depression remains treatable with psychotherapy, medication, and healthy lifestyle management, along with support from parents, caregivers, friends, and other family members.

Why are Teens Depressed?

There can be multiple causes of depression in teens, and for most people, a combination of these factors leads to this psychiatric illness. The following are some potential causes of teenage depression:

  • Genetics: Depression is known to run in families, confirming its genetic component. Remember that teenagers with a family history of depression will not necessarily develop this condition, and sometimes, those without any genetic history may end up developing it.
  • Traumatic life events: Any type of trauma, such as the loss of a loved one or any type of abuse, can cause severe distress in a child’s mind, putting them at a high risk of developing depression in their teenage years.
  • Medical conditions: Sometimes, depressive symptoms in a teenager may be due to another medical illness, such as hypothyroidism. Alternatively, receiving a diagnosis of a lifelong disorder, such as type one diabetes, can also contribute to teenage depression.
  • Social situations: Unfortunately, many teenagers continue to live in difficult circumstances. Many of them face domestic violence, while others get exposed to poverty or substance use from an early age. These issues can trigger stress and directly contribute to depression in a teenager.
  • Illegal drugs/medications: Some illegal drugs and even prescription medications may cause depression as a side effect in teenagers.

Symptoms of Depression in Teens

Adults often do not pick up the symptoms of depression in teens as the disorder looks a bit different from its presentation in adults. Hence, the condition remains highly underdiagnosed and majorly untreated. [2] The key is to pick up the symptoms in time, some of which include the following:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Sad or depressed mood
  • Crying
  • Inability to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Loss of interest in things that once seemed pleasurable
  • Loss of appetite or increased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Aches and pains that don’t go away despite treatment
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feeling tired despite getting enough sleep
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts

What are the Types of Depression in Teens?    

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the following are the two most common types of depression that hit teenagers:

Major Depressive Disorder

Also known as major depression, this type of teenage depression includes a combination of symptoms that interfere with a person’s ability to sleep, eat, study, work, and start re-enjoying the activities they once used to enjoy. Major depression can be extremely disabling and can prevent a person from functioning normally in day-to-day life.

Dysthymic Disorder

Also known as dysthymia, this disorder is long-term and typically lasts for two years or more. However, the symptoms it includes are less severe and do not usually disable a person. People with dysthymia may have difficulties performing normally or feeling well in general. Such people are also at risk of experiencing one or more episodes of major depression at some point in life.

When to Seek Help for Depression in Teens?

Experts suggest seeking help whenever teenage depression is suspected, as the condition is unlikely to go away on its own. If untreated, the mental health condition may persist for months or even years, potentially making the victims miss various developmental milestones. This untreated condition can also contribute to other serious issues, such as behavioral issues, substance use disorder, and a host of other medical problems. Getting your teenager evaluated by a trained mental health professional can help them receive a timely diagnosis and put them on the right path to treatment.

During depression evaluation, a doctor can also screen a teenager for other medical conditions that may be triggering or contributing to their symptoms. Many teenagers diagnosed with depression often suffer from co-occurring g mental and physical health conditions along with many unmet medical and mental service needs. Even if depression is not the suspected disease, any long-term change in a teen’s functioning is indicative of a serious problem that must be picked up and addressed immediately. It is crucial to err on the side of caution where there is a possibility of teenage depression, as the condition can worsen with time and even lead to suicidal tendencies.

Depression in Teenagers: How to Help the Affected Ones?

People experiencing depression often do not wish to seek help and may get easily upset or become violent when someone suggests they get support. Despite their resistance, their mental and physical well-being must work alongside a trained mental health professional and adopt a healthy lifestyle. To help such teenagers get the help they need, remember the following tips:

Learn more about depression.

If a teenager under your care has been diagnosed with depression or is suspected to be struggling with it, try educating yourself about this psychiatric illness. Raising awareness will help you as a caregiver to understand what the teenager is going through while putting you in a better position to navigate teenage depression. Remember that a struggling teen can also be a good source of information, so ensure you can listen to their feelings and experiences. Encourage them to talk about anything that bothers them without pushing it too much.

Help the teenager understand depression.

Try to educate teenagers about their underlying illness to help them better understand their symptoms and the importance of treatment. Share how common the illness is to help them feel better and understand that it is not abnormal. If a teenager is facing trouble understanding what depression is, compare it to a physical disease, such as diabetes, to help them grasp the concept of a disorder. For example, tell them that depression is a mental illness and can make you feel tired, like the flu and other diseases. It can also negatively impact the mood and emotions and requires treatment and support, just like any other illness.

Help them know what to expect.

Teenagers are more likely to seek treatment with higher compliance if they know what to expect and if their expectations are positive. The unknown can be frightening and scary for anyone, so try to give your teenager an idea of their treatment plan and why they must play their part. For instance, you may tell them the importance of going to therapy once a week and how it will help them break the cycle of emotions in a few weeks.

Give them some control.

Having a say in treatment can greatly improve compliance rates. Try giving your teenager a sense of control to support their development while teaching them how to make healthy life decisions. While letting teenagers plan their treatment on their own is not practical or possible, giving them a chance to make smaller decisions lets them feel they have a say in their disease treatment. For instance, let them know they will need to go to therapy once a week but ask them to choose which day would work best for them.

Encourage them to establish supportive relationships.

Having supportive relationships is necessary for people of all age groups but crucial for teenagers with depression. Depression in teens can cause them to slowly withdraw from family members and friends while making them experience loneliness, isolation, and gloom. Having only one supportive friend or adult to talk to can significantly benefit them. Ensure your availability and declare your support while encouraging them to re-connect with others.

Take them for professional therapy.

Clinical depression in teenagers often warrants professional treatment, and therapy is one of the most important pillars of it. Encourage your teenager to seek the right therapy with a trained professional. In most cases, the following types of therapy may help:

Interpersonal therapy (IPT): This therapy focuses on communication issues and social relationships that may be contributing to depression. IPT also helps teenagers learn how to healthily interact with others and improve the quality of their relationships.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This therapy focuses on the association between thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. During CBT sessions, teenagers can learn to pick up negative thought patterns while replacing them with more positive ones.

Help them make healthy lifestyle changes.

In addition to professional treatment, certain lifestyle changes can also help manage depression among teens. To help your teenager live a healthy, depression-free life, help them in:

  • Developing a healthy sleep schedule
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Following a nutritious diet plan


How do experts diagnose depression in teens?

A primary care physician is usually the first person to pick up signs of teenage depression. These experts often start with a physical exam, including blood tests and imaging, to rule out any other medical illness that may be triggering or contributing to the symptoms. Affected teenagers may also be subjected to psychological evaluations involving a depression questionnaire. An expert also asks several questions, such as the nature, duration, and severity of the symptoms.

How many teens suffer from depression?

The WHO suggests that up to 1.1 percent of teenagers up to 14 years old suffer from depression, whereas this figure increases to 2.8 percent for teenagers between 15 and 19 years of age. However, experts worldwide also agree that teenage depression remains a highly undiagnosed mental health disorder with many unreported cases.

Is depression common in teenage?

The teenage years can be difficult for many, and the daily stressors of personal and academic life can easily trigger depression in many teenagers. One out of every five adolescents is expected to suffer from depression at some point during their teen life.


1 Kessler RC, Avenevoli S, Costello EJ, Georgiades K, Green JG, Gruber MJ, He JP, Koretz D, McLaughlin KA, Petukhova M, Sampson NA. Prevalence, persistence, and sociodemographic correlates of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Adolescent Supplement. Archives of general psychiatry. 2012 Apr 1;69(4):372-80.

2 Cheung AH, Kozloff N, Sacks D. Pediatric depression: an evidence-based update on treatment interventions. Current Psychiatry Reports. 2013 Aug;15:1-8.

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