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Understanding and Addressing Teenage Depression: Recognizing the Signs and Offering Support

In 2022, Mental Health America found that 15.08% of adolescents ages 12 to 17 years old reported suffering from at least one major depressive episode in the last year. This was an increase of 1.24% from 2021. When untreated, teenage depression is more likely to continue into adulthood. Teenage depression can show up as a change from previous attitudes and behavior. 

  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance.
  • Feelings of:
    • Sadness (e.g. crying spells for no apparent reason).
    • Irritability/annoyance/frustration/anger, even over small matters.
    • Hopelessness/emptiness .
    • Worthlessness/guilt .
  • Fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism.
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide 
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in:
    • Usual activities.
    • Family and friends (e.g. interpersonal conflicts) .
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak .
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things.

Behavioral changes

As an adult supporting a teenager, it is important to remember that depression affects how your teenager thinks, feels, and behaves. Teenage depression will show up as emotional, functional, and physical problems with school, family, and friends. Depressive symptoms are further impacted by peer pressure, academic expectations, and physiological changes. 

  • Agitation or restlessness (e.g. pacing, hand-wringing, or an inability to sit still).
  • Angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors.
  • Appetite variability:
    • Decreased appetite and weight loss.
    • Increased cravings for food and weight gain .
  • Frequent complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches
    • May include frequent visits to the school nurse  .
    • Increased cravings for food and weight gain .
  • Less attention to personal hygiene or appearance.
  • Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt (see our suicidal ideation versus self-harm information).
  • Poor school performance or frequent absences from school.
  • Self-harm (e.g. cutting, burning – see our suicidal ideation versus self-harm information) .
  • Sleep variability:
    • Insomnia
    • Sleeping too much.
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements.
  • Social isolation.
  • Tiredness and loss of energy.
  • Use of alcohol or drugs.

To better support your teenager, make sure to talk to them and determine whether the changes you see are part of their normal development or a sign of depression. Discuss the ways in which they are managing those feelings and assess if they are seeing life as overwhelming. If the warning signs of depression worsen in intensity or increase in frequency, bring them to a mental health provider, like Protected Roots Integrative (PRI) Treatment Center to be evaluated by a mental health professional. 

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