Teen Depression: Complete guide to understanding this type of depression

Is your teen depressed? What are the top signs and symptoms of teen depression? Is there a correlation between suicide and teen depression? What are some tips to help a teenager with depression? How to diagnose teen depression? Is there a treatment? Teen depression is not growing pains, it’s real. The same way adults get depressed so do teenagers. 

Teen Depression
Teen Depression

What is Teen Depression?

Depression is a topic that is hardly on the radar of people’s mind, but it’s an important topic for everyone to understand; especially with what’s been happening recently with the suicide of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.

Depression is a serious mental illness that can affect anyone even teenagers. Therefore, it’s vital to talk about depression and how it evolves in order to make further awareness within our communities. Depression is also referred to as major depression or major depressive disorder. When someone is suffering from depression they feel hopeless and sad. A diagnosis occurs when depression happens for a prolonged time. It’s important to recognize that a teenager getting bad grades and being sad about it is not depression.

Teen depression happens when they have lost interest in things they once care about and withdraws themselves from their social networks. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 5 percent of teenagers experience depression in this country at any given moment. Is your teenager or you a teen suffering from depression and want to know when to seek a professional? Statistics have shown that teen depression has skyrocketed over the years. When observing the statistics, according to sucide.org approximately 20 percent of adolescents have depression before they are an adult.

Depression has been a mental health problem for centuries. The word “depression” arises later on in literature, but it was originally called melancholia. These phrases were first seen in ancient Mesopotamian texts.

“Melancholy is sadness that has taken on lightness.”

― Italo Calvino

The earliest discussion of depression was with ancient Greeks and Romans, in the 5th century, mental illness was referred to spirits or demons. Even Chinese, Egyptians, and Babylonians saw mental illness as demonic. These civilizations used exorcism techniques in order to take out the illness. It was believed that the illness had demonic possession and using methods like beating or even starving an individual will help cure depression. However, certain ancient Greek and Roman doctors understood that depression was not due to spiritual forces but derives from a biological and psychological malady. At the time, in order to help the symptoms approaches such as gymnastics, message, music, donkey’s milk and others were used to ease the illness.

Teen Depression: Signs and Symptoms

There are new pressures for adolescents all the time. Pressures such as: graduating with good grades, getting into college, becoming financially stable, finding a great job, and social media is the newest pressure of them all.

While tracking the stress levels of 1,950 adults and 1,018 teens the American Psychological Association was able to demonstrate that teenagers experience similar if not more stress than adults do. This happens because of all the added pressure of parents, school officials, and the society puts on teenagers.  Understanding these new pressure is crucial to know when a teen is feeling more than just down. Giving recognition to teen depression can save many adolescents from becoming clinically depressed or from suicide. Many factors can contribute to teen depression there isn’t one definitive cause.

Signs and symptoms of teen depression include:

  1. Feeling of hopelessness or sadness
  2. Preoccupied with thoughts of suicide or death
  3. Withdrawal from love ones such as: friends and family
  4. Aches and pains that are unexplainable such as: headaches, fatigue, back pain
  5. Sporadic crying spells
  6. Becoming more irritable or hostile
  7. Having a sense of restlessness and anxiety
  8. Poor school performance or wanting to be absent constantly
  9. Dramatic change in behavior, ups or downs
  10. Lack of motivation or energy
  11. Sleeping excessively or insomnia
  • Eating habits change which results in weight loss or gains
  • Exhibiting criminal or rebellious behavior
  • Difficulty in concentrating and making decisions
  • Feeling a sense of worthlessness
  • Have inappropriate or excessive guilt
  • Have a family history of depression
  • Other signs can be not having regards about their own wellbeing. Teenagers will also engage in risky behaviors like promiscuous sex, unprotected sex, drinking alcohol or doing drugs. These activities must be monitored in order to know if a teenager may need to seek services from a professional. Girls are twice more likely to be depressed than their boy counterparts. Moreover, individuals whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual are twice as likely to suffer from depression and twice as likely to commit suicide.

    Teen Depression and Suicide

    Every 100 minutes a teenager commits suicide

    Depression is not something that someone can just “snap out of”. It’s a mental illness that can complicate the life of a teenager and even the family system. If you’re a parent reading this, know that your child’s mental health is important and maybe it’s not just the blues. Suicide is linked with depression. It’s essential to understand that depression and suicidal ideations are treatable with proper diagnoses and treatment.

    Teen Depression
    Teen Hopelessness

    There are risk factors to consider when a teenager is suicidal such as:

    1. A family history of suicide or attempts
    2. Being a victim of bullying or rape
    3. Being exposed to extreme violence and abandonment
    4. Feeling tremendously stressed out with the pressure of succeeding in school and in life
    5. Having impulsive behavior
    6. Having self-doubt and very low self-esteem

    We already discussed the signs of teen depression and it’s important to note that those same signs can lead to a teenager to commit suicide. Another key point to notice is teenagers who want to end their lives start to give their possessions away and/or stop talking or planning their future. No one likes talking about suicide, but according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, as of 2017, suicide is considered to be the seconding prominent cause of death in teenagers, children, and young adults from 5-24 years old. This information is precedent to help individuals from 5-24 years old from committing suicide every day.

    If you think that your child is in immediate danger. Call 911 right away or your local emergency number.

    Make sure you stay with the person until officers arrive at the scene. Remember to be there for the teenager and not judge the teenager.

    Most importantly if there are any guns, knives, or anything that can cause harm, please remove the item(s) from the premises immediately. You can save their life by taking these actions

    If your teenager is not in immediate danger and you think that they are suffering from depression and might have suicidal ideations do not wait until it’s too late.

    Get help from a suicide prevention hotline. At the end of the article there will be different hotline numbers you or a teenager themselves can call in case they’re suffering from teen depression and have thoughts about thinking of harming themselves.

    Social media is a dangerous place at times because our children and teenagers are exposed to various unknown risks. It’s important as parents to understand what your teen is reading, watching or who are they connecting with on the internet. The United States, is not the only country going through bizarre social media games or challenges such as the Tide Pod Challenge.  According to Will Stewart, he wrote an article on Russian teenagers committing suicide ‘as part of bizarre social media GAME called Blue Whale’, police say . This Blue Whale Challenge was created by a sinister group, who encourages teenagers to carve a whale on their body using a knife and to put END on their social media account on the 50th day. There were reports of 15 teenagers who ended their lives playing this game and only 5 being able to be rescued from committing suicide.

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    This challenge was introduced in 2013 in Russia, and became so popular that recently in 2018, in United States, a teenager from Texas killed himself in the participation of the game. This is a reality check for every parent that believes that this will never happen to their child, which is imperative that parents are involved with their children’s online activity. As a mother myself, it is terrifying that your teen can be a few clicks away of killing themselves if they fall into the wrong hands.

    Asking the right questions can help you understand what they are going through such as: how are you doing today? Are you feeling depressed? I see that you are not hanging out with your friends anymore is there a reason? I see your grades have decline, is the work getting hard? These are a few questions that can help start a conversation to analyze and understand the teenager.

    Diagnosing Teen Depression

    There aren’t any accurate tests to truly distinguish teen depression. Therefore, health professionals are able to diagnose depression in youths in various ways such as: having interviews and psychological testing for the teenager, the family system, school officials, and peers to truly understand what is going on.

    Knowing the severity is determined by the interviews conducted. This is where treatments are formed with the information that is collected. Other co-existing psychiatric disorders are taken into consideration when determining teen depression as well. These disorders can be anxiety, substance abuse, bipolar, schizophrenia, or psychosis. If a teenager has a co-existing psychiatric disorder it is most likely for that adolescent to suffer from depression.

    Treatment for Teen Depression

    It’s important to seek professional help to find proper treatment. Teen depression is really serious and it can get worse if not treated immediately. Therapy is used when it comes to depression because it can help a teenager learn to come up with different mechanisms to deal with traumatic situations.

    The most common ways to treat depression for teens are:

    1. Medication – Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, and Lexapro are a few antidepressant medications that are sometimes used for teenagers. Antidepressants tend to moderate neurotransmitters in our brain, helping us feel better. It’s essential to know that these medicines can have possible side effects, but it helps relieve symptoms of depression. Medication is sometimes used with therapy as well. In order to learn more about different types of medications contact your health care provider or mental health professional to get a better understanding of the potential side effects, it may have.

    2. Psychotherapy- This method is talk therapy and gives teens an opportunity to speak freely in a natural supportive environment. The role of the psychologists or therapists is to work with the teen to identify thought and behavior patterns that prevent the adolescent from wanting to function in their daily lives. Learning new coping skills is what is developed in psychotherapy.

    • Cognitive- behavior therapy (CBT)Is another form of talk therapy that focuses on changing the negative patterns by doing different approaches. Which will change their thinking and behaviors.
    • Interpersonal therapy (IPT) – This is also another form of talk therapy that aims to change the relationship at home and inside the school by creating healthier connections.

    Recovery takes one step at a time and the first step is recognizing the signs and symptoms of teen depression. Depression is a difficult illness to overcome, but it is treatable and with the help of family and friends it can be something that a teenager does not have to overcome on their own.     

    Tips to Help Teenagers with Depression

    There are different ways to help teen depression

    Tip 1: Teen depression and Communication

    Learning how to communicate and having an open dialogue about depression can show support to your teenager. Listening is really important because it allows your teenager to communicate their worries without feeling judged. This allows them to know that your there for them and not there to criticize. This means being patient and not shutting down the teenager because it’s a hard topic to express. Acknowledging their feelings and respecting your teenager gives them a comfort level of willingness to discuss what they are feeling.

    Tip 2: Teen depression and Social Connection

    Encouraging your teen to socially connect is important. One of the signs of depression is withdrawal from friends and activities. Sometimes parents can be really busy but being able to set aside some time to converse with your teen helps reduce their depression. This happens because you’re giving face to face connection and that is sometimes the support they need. Suggesting your teenager get involved or to volunteer can help with boosting their self-esteem. Just look at their interests and talents and it will help them re-engage into their normal life.

    Tip 3: Teen depression: When to Seek a Health Professional

    Sometimes communicating and getting your child connected to networks is not always sufficient. Getting help from a professional is necessary when the depression becomes severe. Understand that even if you’re finding a specialist the adolescent should have an input as well. When finding a therapist and a treatment plan you may not find the right person or plan all the time. Therefore, do not give up on finding someone your teenager can connect with. Also, start thinking about the treatment you think is best for your teenager as well.

    Depression in teens is real and it helps to have a supportive network to get through these challenging times. As parents, it’s important to know what your teenager is going through because it can more be than just a stage and be beyond their hormonal changes. If you’re a teen reading this is okay you’re not alone. Teen depression is common and do not feel ashamed to seek professional help if you believe you’re suffering from depression. Our children and teenagers are the future; that is why mental health should be funded more and the nation should put more emphasis on the subject matter because more individuals are suffering from this disease every second. So let’s stop stigmatizing teenagers as misbehaving and let’s start taking a stand on teen depression today. 

    Let us know what you think in the comments below.

    Information and Support about Depression

    American Association of Suicidology

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

    Jason Foundation

    National Suicide Prevention Hotline
    800-SUICIDE (784-2433)

    National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
    800-273-TALK (8255)

    National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center
    866-SAFEYOUTH (1-866-723-3968)
    Hours: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Eastern time

    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

    Suicide Prevention Advocacy Network (Span)

    Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program

    Parental stress hotline- Help for Parents 800-992-2600

    National Child Abuse Hotline 800-422-4453

    National Domestic Violence Hotline (TDD) 800-787-3224

    Sexual Assault Hotline (English and Spanish, 24/7) 800-223-5001


    Grohol, John M. “Telephone Hotlines & Helplines.” Psych Central, 19 May 2018, psychcentral.com/lib/telephone-hotlines-and-help-lines/.

    Smith, Melinda, et al. “Parent’s Guide to Teen Depression.” Depression in Older Adults: Recognizing the Signs of Elderly Depression and Getting Treatment, Jan. 2018, www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/parents-guide-to-teen-depression.htm.

    Avery, Angela. “Kids Get Depressed, Too: 8 Signs of Depression in Teens.” Therapy for Schizophrenia, Therapist For, GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog, 18 Apr. 2016, www.goodtherapy.org/blog/kids-get-depressed-too-8-signs-of-depression-in-teens-0302154.

    “Depression in Teens.” Mental Health America, 8 Dec. 2016, www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/depression-teens.

    Dryden-Edwards, Roxanne. “Teen Depression Facts, Treatment, Symptoms, Statistics & Tests.” MedicineNet, 2 Dec. 2016, www.medicinenet.com/teen_depression/article.htm#what_are_complications_of_teen_depression.

    “Teen Depression.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/depression/guide/teen-depression#2-6.

    “Why Today’s Teens Are More Depressed Than Ever.” Center for Discovery, Center for Discovery, 19 Apr. 2018, centerfordiscovery.com/blog/todays-teens-depressed-ever/.

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