Teen Depression: Warning Signs, Effects and How to Help

Teen depression is more than just being moody or occasionally feeling down in the dumps; it’s a serious condition that disrupts your teen’s life and can lead to serious problems like substance abuse and even suicide. As many as 5 million adolescents suffer from clinical depression, but according to a 2009 study, an estimated 70 percent are undiagnosed and don’t receive any form of treatment. Adults have the ability to seek help for depression on their own, but teens rely on their parents, teachers and other adults to recognize that they’re suffering and step in to help. Don’t let your teen suffer in silence. Here’re how to tell if your teen is depressed and what you can do to help.

Signs of Teen Depression

It can be hard for parents to distinguish between “normal” teen angst and moodiness and the signs of serious depression. That’s why its imperative for parents to really pay attention to their teen and not dismiss the red flags of depression as “hormonal” issues.

Some common warning signs of teen depression include:

  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Irritability, anger or hostility
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Sloppy appearance
  • Sudden drop in grades
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Spending a lot of time in their room
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Overreacting to criticism
  • Dramatic weight loss or weight gain

Teens and adults share many of the same signs of depression, but teens sometimes express their depression in different ways. For example, Rather than showing sadness, teens will often be irritable, grumpy, hostile, easily frustrated and prone to angry outbursts. Depressed teens will also be extremely sensitive to criticism, rejection or failure, which is a common problem for “over-achievers.” Some depressed teens will even frequently complain about physical aches and pains, such as headaches or stomachaches, that can’t be explained by the doctor. Finally, while depressed adults tend to isolate themselves from everyone, depressed teens will withdraw from some people, but not all people, by socializing less, pulling away from their parents, or hanging out with a different crowd.

Problems Caused by Teen Depression

Teens have a hard time understanding and verbalizing their emotions, which can cause them to “act out” in rebellious or unhealthy ways. If your teen is exhibiting any of the following behaviors, they may be trying to cope with the emotional pain of depression.

Slipping grades — Depression makes it difficult to concentrate and focus. It also causes sleep problems, fatigue and low energy.

Substance abuse — Teens may use drugs or alcohol as a way to self-medicate and cope with their depression.

Eating disorders — Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating are often signs that undiagnosed depression exists.

Internet addiction — Sometimes depressed teens will try to escape from their problems and withdraw from friends and family by excessively using the computer.

Self-injury — Cutting, burning and other kinds of self-mutilation almost always indicate a person is depressed.

Reckless behavior — Depressed teens sometimes engage in high-risk behaviors, such as reckless driving, unsafe sex and binge drinking.

Violence — Self-hatred and suicidal thoughts can sometimes lead to violence and rage, especially in teens who are victims of bullying.

Suicide attempts — Serious depression can lead your teen to talk about or attempt suicide. This should not be dismissed as “attention-getting” behavior. Suicide attempts should always be taken very seriously.

How to Help a Depressed Teen

The first thing you should do if you suspect your teen is depressed is to listen — without judgment, without lecturing, and without criticizing. Encourage your teen to open up about his or her feelings and then validate their feelings by acknowledging their pain and sadness, even if their feelings appear irrational to you. Second, offer support and make it clear that you’re ready and willing to help them in any way that they need. Your teen may try to shut you out at first, but be persistent, yet gentle, about supporting him or her.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do, however, is immediately seek out the advice of your family doctor or a mental health specialist. Your doctor will be able to perform a depression screening that includes a physical exam to determine if a medical condition is causing for your teen’s depression. If medical causes are ruled out, your doctor can recommend a psychologist or psychiatrist who specializes in adolescents and young adults.

If your teen has turned to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with his or her depression, an addiction treatment center that specializes in dual diagnosis treatment will help them conquer their addiction and their mood disorder. At Casa Palmera, our skilled, compassionate staff is experienced at dealing with the unique issues teens with depression face. We believe the only way to recover from addiction is to treat the underlying issues that have lead your teen to use drugs or alcohol in the first place. Our caring staff will use traditional methods of addiction and depression treatment, such as talk therapy and medications if necessary, and holistic methods that include all-natural treatments and methods that will address your teen’s entire well-being.

Don’t let your teen suffer in silence any longer.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.