How to Recognize Signs of Teenage Depression


Adolescence is a time of tremendous stress. In fact, teenagers as a group are at very high risk of developing depression. Many of the characteristics of the developmental stage of adolescence can be confused with the signs of teenage depression. For example, teens will pull away from their parents, will isolate, become more secretive and will have disrupted sleep patterns. 

Below are the specific signs of teenage depression according to the DSM V. They are the same symptoms needed to diagnoses adult depression, accept teens can have an irritable mood in place of a sad one. 

Depression symptoms

For two weeks or more your child has had a depressed or irritable mood nearly every day or a loss of interest and pleasure in almost all activities.

     Also  four or more of these symptoms:

  • Weight loss or gain or decrease of increase in appetite nearly every day.     
  • Sleeping more or less than normal
  • Feeling physically agitated or slowed down
  •  Feeling a loss of energy
  • Feeling worthless or excessive guilt
  • Trouble thinking and concentrating or being indecisive
  •  Having recurrent thoughts of death or suicide with or without a plan

Adolescence is the time to separate from our families and begin to develop our own distinct identity. It can be a trying, exhaustive, stressful time in life. How do we as parents know when our kids are showing signs of teenage depression?

Below are some of the challenges and stresses which can be causes of teen depression. Paying careful attention to the signs of teenage depression, combined with the stressors below, can give you special insight into whether or not your teen is struggling.

Puberty and Sexuality

Teens have tremendous pressure to be sexually active. They  are inundated by the media with messages of what sexuality is. They struggle to figure out what defines an intimate relationship and how they should act as women or men. Pressure in this area is certainly one of the causes of teen depression.

Even as an adult, we may find sexual or intimate relationships confusing and challenging. In fact, a large portion of my clients seek help because of relationship issues. Teens often don’t have the skills, experience, or understanding to navigate through this difficult area. Obviously this is further complicated if a teen is struggling with homosexuality, a history of sexual or physical abuse, substance abuse, or exposure to unhealthy and dysfunctional male/ female relationships. 

Broken Hearts and Failed Relationships

Love relationships are a major contributing cause of teen depression. After a breakup, both teen girls and boys can experience a major depression. They have a very difficult time sorting through the hurt and confused feelings and often take a long time recover. 

Below is an excerpt from a poem from one of my clients that illustrates how difficult heartbreak can be. In it you can clearly see some of the signs of teenage depression illustrated. 

I'm hurting so bad.

I can barely feel my heart beating.

I just want to fucking die!!!

When things seem to be getting better,

They're really just getting worse.

So many lies.

Lost of trust.

Broken hearts.

What’s happening?

How did things get this bad?

Why did i let all this happen?

I wish it would go away.

I wish i never met them.

I wish i didn’t love her.

Watch your child carefully when they are involved in romantic relationship or even have feelings for someone else romantically. This can lead to signs of teenage depression. It is very often the trigger for the beginning of a depressive episode for teens prone to depression. 

Fitting in and Loneliness

Fitting in is a major developmental challenge for teens. They are figuring out who they are, what they stand for and what is important to them. In my experience, kids who think differently or are unique or special in some way are the ones at risk. They are more likely to question, think, and disagree with what they have been told. These are the kids who are not in the “in crowd”. Being different can be one of the causes of teen depression.

Teens are very vulnerable to loneliness, and to feel this emotion intensely. Loneliness is one of the causes and one of the signs of teen depression. Unfortunately, because teenagers pull away from adults during adolescents, they are often perceived as brooding, moody and wanting to be alone. Feeling isolated from their peer group or from their family can lead to depression anger at themselves and anger at others. This is illustrated below in this poem by a 16 year old experiencing depression.

Will someone please give me a blanket?



They can’t.

You know why?

Cause no one’s there,

And no one cares.

All are tied up in their own lives.

But that’s ok

No one has to help me.

I just can’t wait,

For them all,

To go to their own hell.

Even though your teen may be withdrawing from you, it's important to repeatedly reach out to them. They need this often despite their protests to the contrary.

Being Good at Something

Teens need to have a sense that they are valuable and important and good at something. This can come from being beautiful, smart, fun, artistic, athletic, or being good enough in all these areas. A teen who does not feel special in any way or competent in any area can have low self esteem that may lead to depression. It's important to search to find their talents, regardless of what they are, and to try to develop and foster them. Having strengths balances out the risks a child has at manifesting depression, and can lift them out of a depressive episode sooner. 


Conflict in the family and problems getting along with parents can also be a major source of depression in a teen. Several of the teens I work with describe their lives as being full of pressure to grow up but without any of the privileges of an adult. If the family struggles with financial problems, communication problems, substance abuse or any other issues these can be causes of teen depression.

Knowing how to communicate well with your teen and how to parent them is not something we know intuitively, even if previously things went smoothly. Going to family therapy can be a great way to learn how to get closer and communicate better.

School: Grades Typically are one of The Best Signs of Teenage Depression

Both kids who excel at school, and those who struggle can be susceptible to feeling pressure from academics that can be a cause of teen depression. Children with learning disabilities ( which often go undetected) may be constantly reminded of how difficult and challenging their lives are. Teens who are academically accelerated may feel the pressure to be the best and feel stress about things such as EOGS, SATS, and planning for college. I constantly hear these issues as sources of stress in the teens I work with.

A drop in school grades is also one of the first signs of teen depression, especially in a teen who has previously done well in school. 

Here is an excerpt from the journal of a depressed teen who had been recently hospitalized for depression:

I just got my report card a little bit ago. Yeah, I failed “sigh”. Today’s a “down” day. I feel really, really low today. I feel tired, slow, extremely depressed, hopeless and suicidal, can’t forget suicidal………….I just need to step up and act like the adult everyone thinks I’m not.

All of these areas are important areas to observe as triggers for signs of teenage depression. Although teens will often shut their parents out, it is important to pay attention to what's happening in their lives, and be aware of the signs of teenage depression, particularly if you their is  a family history of it.

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Medical information obtained from this website is not intended as a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you have a problem, you should consult a healthcare provider.