Distinguishing between the normal ups and downs of being a teenager and the signs of depression in teens can be a challenge. If you find yourself wondering if your child is depressed or whether he or she is just going through a normal phase in the process of growing up, this article may be for you.

Teen depression is a serious mental health disorder that tends to permeate every aspect of a teenager’s life, causing significant distress and problems at home, school, and/or socially. It is not a character flaw or weakness. Nor is it something your teen can just snap out of or overcome by willpower or determination. Rather, it causes persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, and a feeling that life is overwhelming. Left untreated, it can put him or her at high risk of suicide.

Warning signs of depression in teens

Depressed teens typically exhibit a significant change in their moods and behaviors that tend to interfere with their ability to carry out ordinary activities of daily life. If you notice that your teenager has been down a lot and has been consistently manifesting several of the following symptoms every day for at least two weeks or longer, it may be a red flag that should not be ignored.


Physical signs of depression in teens include lack of energy; chronic fatigue; unexplained body aches and pains; and changes in sleeping and eating habits such as trouble falling or staying asleep or sleeping too much; and/or decreased appetite and weight loss or eating too much and gaining weight.


Behavioral signs of depression in teens include alcohol, tobacco, or drug use; restlessness or agitation; irritability, angry outbursts and grumpiness; persistent bad moods; thinking, talking, or moving slower than usual; withdrawing from friends, family, and social activities; cutting school or classes; neglecting personal hygiene and disinterest in their appearance; and/or engaging in disruptive or risky behaviors.


Emotional signs of depression in teens include feelings of sadness; crying for no apparent reason; getting easily annoyed; frustration or anger over small things; feeling empty, hopeless, or pessimistic, and assuming the worst about life; mood swings; loss of interest or pleasure in previously enjoyed activities; and apathy.

It also includes low self-esteem; feelings of guilt or worthlessness; self-condemnation and fixation on past failures; oversensitivity to rejection or criticism; need for constant reassurance; lack of motivation; and thoughts of death or suicide.


Cognitive signs of depression in teens include trouble concentrating, making decisions, or staying focused; trouble remembering things; and a drop in grades at school.

Suicidal thoughts

Depression is one of the major risk factors for suicide in teenagers. Red flags to watch out for that should never be ignored include frequent talk about death or dying; saying things like “I wish I were dead,” “I wish I could disappear,” or “I wish I hadn’t been born.”

Also, calling or visiting people to say goodbye; giving favorite possessions away; posting goodbye statements on social media; joking about committing suicide; or writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide.

Causes of depression in teens

There is no single definitive cause of depression in teens. Usually, it is the result of a mix of biological, psychological, and environmental risk factors such as genetic predisposition; family history; toxic family dynamics; childhood neglect or abuse; and traumatic or stressful life events.

Other causes may include major changes in lifestyle or routine; physical and hormonal changes; chemical imbalance in the brain; death of a loved one, or a relationship break-up; peer pressure; academic expectations; fear of the future; too much time spent on social media; and/or challenging health conditions.

What to do if your teenager is showing signs of depression

If you suspect your teen is struggling with depression, take it seriously. Talk to them about what they are feeling and try to find out what is troubling them. Be supportive, validate his or her thoughts and feelings, and focus on listening rather than lecturing.

If your teenager does not want to talk to you about it, encourage them to talk to someone else they trust or to a counselor.

The good news is that there are several effective evidence-based treatments available for depression in teens that have a high success rate.

Two of the most popular ones are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which focuses on the link between thoughts, feelings, and behavior, and helps teens learn how to identify negative thought patterns and replace them with positive, helpful ones.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) focuses on social relationships and communication issues. IPT helps teens learn how to identify their feelings, improve communication, and interact with others in new ways to improve the quality of their social relationships.

If you have questions or would like to set up an appointment to meet with one of the trained faith-based counselors at San Diego Christian Counseling in California, please give us a call.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Teen depression.” Mayo Clinic. mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/teen-depression/symptoms-causes/syc-20350985.

“Bored”, Courtesy of Zohre Nemati, Unsplash.com, CC0 License


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