Depression In Teenagers – Warning Signs And Help For Parents

Untreated depression in teenagers is not easy to diagnose as these sometimes look like normal adolescent behaviour. Here are some of the symptoms of teenage depression and advice for parents.

A report from the US Department of Health and Human Services shows that approximately one out of five adolescents has a diagnosable mental health disorder, and nearly one-third show symptoms of depression. Diagnosing this condition is not always easy too because symptoms of depression in teenagers and adolescents sometimes can be dismissed as one of those normal symptoms associated with these young ones as they grow up.

A study on trends in depression among adolescents and young adults showed a 37 percent increase in adolescent reports of major depressive episodes between 2005 and 2014. Given the rise in adolescent depression, it’s important for parents, caregivers, and educators to understand the symptoms of adolescent depression and how to help.

Symptoms of Depression In Teenagers

Early warning signs are likely to include: irritability, fatigue, changes in sleep patterns, changes in eating patterns, social withdrawal, and/or anger.

The defining feature of a major depressive episode is a period of at least two weeks during which there is either depressed mood or loss of interest in nearly all activities. In adolescents, the mood may be irritable. The two-week period represents a change in functioning for the teen.

In addition to experiencing depressed or irritable mood or loss of interest or pleasure, four other symptoms must be present:

teenage depression - help for parents
  • Anger or hostility
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Hopelessness
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Poor school performance
  • Lack of motivation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Tearfulness or frequent crying
  • Restlessness
  • Agitation
  • Unexplained aches or pains
  • Thoughts of death or suicide (with or without a plan)

Depression In Teenagers And Suicide

Although as with adults, the possibility of suicide exists at all times during a major depressive episode. The statistics from data taken in 2013 at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show that among students in grades 9-12 in the United States, 17% seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous 12 months, 13.6% made a plan about how they would commit suicide, 8 percent attempted suicide one or more times, and 2.7% made an attempt that resulted in poisoning, overdose, or an injury that required medical attention.

Warning Signs Of Suicide In Teenagers

The following are signs that parents, guardians should watch out. These are warning signs of suicidal ideation among teens:

  • Talking about committing suicide
  • Writing poems or stories about suicide
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Engaging in reckless behavior
  • Romanticizing death
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family members (in person, in notes, or on social media)
  • Cryptic social media updates that reference death or the end

Remember if you suspect that your teen (or your friend) is suicidal, take action right away. Call 1-800-273-TALK for 24-hour suicide prevention and help through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Treatment of Depression

To diagnose depression in teenagers, a complete physical and other examinations to rule out other medical conditions is always a good first step in you suspect that your teen is struggling with depression. Here are some of the treatments that work.


Talk therapy and/or cognitive behavioral therapy are often good initial treatments for mild to moderate cases of depression.

Group therapy

Therapy groups can be effective for teens. Through group work, teens connect with other teens that share and understand their struggles and create support networks beyond their immediate families and close friends.


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) are antidepressant medications that can be beneficial to adolescents diagnosed with major depressive disorder. An adolescent being treated for major depressive disorder should be carefully evaluated by a physician to determine whether or not medication is necessary. Antidepressant medication does come with risks. In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about SSRI medications for children and adolescent due to an increased risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior.

What Parents Can Do

Depression is a serious condition that requires treatment. Do not take a wait and watch approach if you suspect depression–early intervention is best. In addition to professional treatment, there are some things you can do at home to help your teen.

Listen To Your Teenagers

Your wards feel more comfortable when they know for sure that you will always be there to listen to their innermost feelings and anything bothering them. The plain truth is that you can’t fix this for your teen, and lectures won’t make their depression go away, but active and empathic listening establishes rapport and provides emotional support.

Always Make Time

Parents should make time for their teenagers

Never dismiss your teen or adolescent children whenever they request to have some time with you. Most times they might not even want to talk about it so it might be productive if you initiate a conversation which might set the tone for a discussion. The simple of act of making time to talk each day helps your teen reconnect and seek help instead of bottling up their feelings.

Help Them Reach Out

One of the signs of depression in teenagers is social withdrawal. Lack of motivation might make it difficult for your teen to connect with peers during this time. Encourage your teenagers to reach out to close friends and engage in activities of interest with other teens.

Prioritize Exercise

Regular exercise plays a vital role in improving mental health. Aim for one hour of exercise a day. Offer to try new innovative exercise classes with your teen to make it fun.

Improve Nutrition

A healthy, balanced diet helps combat fatigue and feed the brain. Always make sure they avoid diet that may worsen their situation.

Make Sure They Sleep Well

Insufficient sleep exacerbates symptoms of depression. Teens need 9-10 hours of sleep every night.

What Parents Must Remember

While it is the joy of all parents to succeed in helping their children stay mentally stable, they must not secretive or overbearing. It’s important for parents to be open and honest with teens with everything from seeking a diagnosis to making healthy changes at home to seeking professional treatment. Involving your teen in the diagnosis and treatment process helps your teen take control of his or her mental health and learn to prevent or cope with potential relapses.

Article Sources 

  • US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Adolescent Mental Health, March. Available at:
  • Ramin Mojtabai, Mark Olfson, Beth Han, “National Trends in the Prevalence and Treatment of Depression in Adolescents and Young Adults,” Pediatrics, November (2016).
  • American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, American Psychiatric Publishing, Washington, D.C., 2013: Pages 160-168.
  • Centers for Disease Control, “Suicide: Facts at a Glance”, 2015. Available at:
  • National Institute of Mental Health, “Antidepressant Medications for Children and Adolescents: Information for Parents and Caregivers”, Retrieved from:

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