The adolescent years can be tumultuous – from peer pressure, to changing bodies, to pressure to succeed in school and prepare for the future – these factors can add up and cause a great deal of stress on teens and young adults.
Therefore, it can be challenging to recognize what responses are normal or natural in these circumstances, and what is more serious and in need of treatment. Here are some ways to identify depression in teenagers, and ways parents, teachers, and others can help if a teen they know is struggling.
What is Depression in Teens?
Teen depression is a serious mental health condition that affects adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. It is characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and a loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed. Depressive episodes in teenagers can last for weeks or even months, significantly impacting their overall well-being and daily functioning.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), teenage depression is more than just occasional mood swings or typical teenage behavior. It is a real and treatable medical condition that requires attention and support. Approximately 3.2 million teenagers in the United States alone have experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
The prevalence of depression in teens is a significant concern, as it can lead to long-term consequences if left untreated. Adolescents with depression are at a higher risk of substance abuse, academic difficulties, self-harm, and suicide. It also affects their relationships with family and friends, as well as their overall quality of life. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression in teenagers is crucial for early intervention.
What are the signs & symptoms of depression in teens?
Recognizing the symptoms and signs of depression in teenagers is crucial for early intervention and support. While it is normal for teenagers to experience mood swings and occasional sadness, prolonged and persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or irritability may indicate underlying depression. Here are some common symptoms and signs to watch out for:
Emotional signs of depression in teens
Feeling down, hopeless, or sad
Crying spells, sometimes without an apparent cause
Anger and irritability
Feelings of emptiness
Hopelessness about the future
Loss of interest in activities typically enjoyed by the teen
Feeling guilty, like a failure, or like a burden to others
Low self-esteem and self-worth, feeling “not good enough”
Thoughts of dying
Physiological signs of depression in teens
Decreased appetite or overeating
Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
Using substances to cope with symptoms
Feeling tired and low energy
Slowed movements and speech
Behavioral signs of depression in teens
Increased absences from school
Isolation from or increased conflict with friends and family
Withdrawal from normal activities
Increased use of smartphones or internet
Talk of suicide or death
What are the risk factors for depression in teens?
While it is possible for anyone to experience depression, there are risk factors for who is most likely to develop this condition. Among teenagers, these can include:
Poor self-confidence or low self-esteem
Experiencing bullying or problems with peers
Being the witness or victim to physical, emotional, or sexual violence (Note: February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month)
Having a learning disability or ADHD
Having another mental health condition such as anxiety, a mood disorder, personality disorder, or eating disorder
Having a physical illness/chronic pain condition
Using substances such as alcohol or drugs
Lacking support for gender identity or sexual orientation
Family history of mental illness, substance use disorder, suicide, or other mental health condition
Loss of a parent due to death, divorce, incarceration, or other reason
How to help teens going through depression:
As a parent:
Listen more, advise less. If your teen is struggling with depression, they likely just want to know that you are there for them and care about them. Try to avoid giving advice and instead listen and acknowledge how they are feeling.
Validate mental health. It’s common for teens to not speak up about mental health concerns if they feel they won’t be taken seriously. Try to have conversations about mental health and communicate your openness to learning more. Educate yourself about various mental health conditions through resources such as National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Connect them with a professional. If you’re struggling to get your teen to talk and open up, but are concerned about signs of depression, try and encourage them to speak to a school counselor, therapist, or other professional. To find out about resources for youth and mental health, you can call 1-855-543-5465 to be connected to RI Kids’ Link. You can also encourage your teen to call/text 988 in a crisis, or visit 988lifeline.org to chat.
As a teacher:
Know the signs. As a teacher, you may have an opportunity to observe behavioral and other changes in teens better than most. Know the physical, behavioral, and emotional signs of depression, and what resources are available in your community.
Advocate for universal mental health screenings. School-wide screenings of depression, such as the PHQ-9, can help identify the students in need of mental health treatment or intervention. These screenings identify the symptoms and severity of depression and other mental health concerns.
Collaborate with professionals. Building relationships with school counselors, therapists, and psychologists, and working as a team when a student is receiving services, can help support the success of the student’s treatment. Knowing the student’s goals and sharing important observations about the student’s challenges and progress can improve treatment success in the long-run.
Self-care and treatment options for teens with depression
If you’re a teen yourself struggling with depression, know that you are not alone, and treatment IS possible! Taking care of yourself and knowing where to go for support are two important steps along the way.
Take care of your body… and mind. While we know that what you fuel yourself with is important, sometimes we only focus on the physical consumption. Definitely be sure to get 3 balanced meals per day and drink plenty of water, and ALSO be mindful of what type of media and information you are consuming. Taking breaks from social media or other sites that trigger negative thoughts about yourself or others can help to clear your head.
Pay attention to your thoughts. While it’s difficult to control your emotions, it’s possible to get a hold of your thoughts. Even though a thought comes to you, you have a choice in how to respond to it. Be aware of how you are talking to yourself. Is it kind, or cruel? Are you holding yourself to unrealistic expectations? Do you put yourself down often? If you’re struggling, a therapist can help you to recognize these thoughts.
Start building a self care routine, just one step at a time. Building a routine that involves hygiene practices, physical exercise, relaxation and more takes a lot of time and patience. It’s not an overnight task, so go easy on yourself if it doesn’t stick right away. You can start by adding one healthy activity at a time to your daily routine. For example, maybe you start each day by washing your face, and gradually work up to showering each morning. Or maybe you practice reading 1 page of a book each night before bed. Whatever it is, start small and take it one step at a time.
Treatment Options for Teen Depression
Teen depression is a serious mental health issue that requires timely and effective treatment. The good news is that there are various treatment options available to help teenagers manage their depression. It's essential to explore these options, considering the specific needs of each individual.
Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy or counseling, is often a key component of treating teen depression. It involves regular sessions with a mental health professional who specializes in working with adolescents. There are different types of talk therapy that may be recommended:
1. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This type of therapy focuses on identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviors, and developing healthy coping mechanisms. CBT has been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression in teenagers.
2. Interpersonal Therapy (IPT): IPT is centered around improving interpersonal relationships and communication skills. It addresses issues such as social conflicts, grief, and major life changes that may contribute to depression.
3. Family Therapy: Family therapy involves the whole family in the treatment process. It aims to improve family dynamics, communication, and problem-solving skills, creating a supportive and nurturing environment for the teenager.
Whether you are a teen, a parent, an educator or other, thank you for taking time to learn about ways to support the mental health of adolescents.
We at Revive Therapeutic Services are happy to support young people in their journey toward improved mental health. Reach out today to start!