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An image of a depressed child showing the Warning Signs of Depression in Youth

Depression is a serious illness that can impact all areas of a teen’s life, so it is vital to be aware of the most common warning signs of depression in youth.

Teen depression is more than sadness or moodiness inflamed by fluctuating levels of adolescent hormones. Young adults suffering from depression find it can impact their physical health, interpersonal relationships, academic performance, and sense of self-worth.

Beyond this, depression is a risk factor for suicide, now the second-leading cause of death among teens in the U.S. Do not underestimate the seriousness of depression in adolescents and teenagers.

Signs of Depression in Adolescent

Adolescent depression is the same mood disorder as adult depression. Adolescents can suffer from both major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder.

That said, some of the warning signs of depression in adolescents can manifest differently than among adults. This is at least partly due to the developmental and social challenges adolescents face, including:

  • Developing bodies
  • Puberty
  • Fluctuating hormone levels
  • Peer pressure

When adolescents develop depression, this is typically associated with heightened levels of stress and anxiety, as well as an increased risk for suicidal ideation and suicide.

Adolescent depression ripples outward into these areas:

  • Personal life (feelings, thoughts, behaviors, both when alone and in the company of others)
  • Academic life and performance
  • Professional performance
  • Family life
  • Social interactions and interpersonal relationships
  • Self-esteem and self-confidence

In many cases, these symptoms trigger social isolation and can lead to problems in other areas of life.

Data from NIMH (National Institutes on Mental Health) concerning depression among adolescents in the U.S. in 2020 shows that:

  • 4.1 million adolescents aged from 12 to 17 experienced one or more episodes of major depression. This equates to 17% of that demographic suffering from depression.
  • Adolescent females are almost three times more likely to experience an episode of major depression as adolescent males.

Many parents find it challenging to differentiate the symptoms of adolescent depression from the normal emotional upheaval of puberty, adolescence, and the teenage years.

According to AACAP (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry), these are the most common early signs of depression in adolescence:

  • Appearing sad or tearful
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Altered sleeping habits
  • Changes to appetite
  • Reduced energy levels
  • Frequent complaints of boredom
  • Problems with concentration and focus
  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and guilt
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Drug abuse
  • Social withdrawal
  • Impaired performance at school
  • Talking about suicide

Not all of the above symptoms will be indicative of clinical depression. If you notice your adolescent child presenting a cluster of these signs, though, it might be time to open a dialogue about depression and mental health.

An image of a teen in therapy | Warning Signs of Depression in Youth

Signs of Depression in Teenagers

As a parent, you can expect the teenage years to include plenty of dark moods and acting out. The adverse effects of teen depression go far beyond a somber mood, though. Depression can erode your teen’s developing personality, bringing with it an overwhelming sense of sadness, anger, and despair.

Many seemingly unhealthy or rebellious behaviors and attitudes can be signs of teenage depression.

Watch out for the following warning signs of depression in youth:

  • Persistently negative mood: One of the most common signs of teen depression is crying more often than normal. Frequent crying can be triggered by the sense of hopelessness that is characteristic of depression. Depression does not always cause feelings of sadness in teens, though. Anger, irritability, and agitation are also prominent symptoms indicative of teen depression.
  • Reduced interest in favored hobbies and activities: Many people of all ages suffering from depression spend less time doing things they once enjoyed. If your teen quits their sports team, neglects their favorite hobby, and starts withdrawing socially from friends and family, this could be a manifestation of teen depression.
  • Academic problems: When depression causes problems with focus and lowered energy levels, this can lead to poor attendance, lowered grades, and failure to complete assignments.
  • Substance abuse: Some teens use alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs to self-medicate the symptoms of depression. This strategy only provides fleeting relief, does nothing to address the underlying mood disorder, and introduces an additional complication with the possibility of alcohol use disorder or substance use disorder developing.
  • Abrupt changes in sleep patterns and diet: If your teenager is spending more time in bed than normal or struggling with insomnia, this may be a sign of depression.
  • Reckless behaviors: Depressed teenagers might engage in high-risk behaviors like binge drinking, driving under the influence, reckless driving, or unsafe sex.
  • Excessive internet use: When teens use the internet excessively, this can increase isolation and deepen feelings of depression. Many social media channels can also place pressure on teens, pressure that becomes unbearable for some in the grips of major depressive disorder.
  • Poor self-esteem: If your teen experiences feelings of failure, shame, unworthiness, or ugliness – all commonplace feelings among teens – depression can intensify those feelings.
  • Running away: If a depressed teens talks about running away from home or attempts to run away, this is often a cry for help rather than a genuine desire to leave the family home.

How to Identify Teenage Depression

Teenagers can be remarkably moody. Facing pressures at home and school as well as among friends, battling to find an identity, and struggling to form relationships, it is not surprising that adolescence is associated with powerful emotional challenges.

When parents or caregivers are trying to identify teenage depression, one of the biggest obstacles is working out the difference between typical teenage moodiness and a clinical mood disorder. Here are some pointers to help:

  • Most teens will try to establish an identity away from their family. It is not unusual for teens to start expressing a lack of interest in family events. Many teens with depression, though, start withdrawing from friends as well as family. Outbursts of anger at parents and caregivers are a normal part of transitioning from puberty into the teen years. A teenager suffering from depression will often display extreme moods of sadness or anger.
  • If a loss or trauma causes your teen feelings of intense anger or sadness, this is normal. If those feelings persist for longer than two weeks, they may signal depression.
  • Most teens will behave differently according to where they are and who they are with. If a teen is grappling with depression, however, they may start avoiding people or places that call for at least a performance of happiness.

If you suspect your teen is facing mental health issues, how can you help?

How to Get Your Child Help

Depression is damaging if untreated but typically responds favorably to evidence-based treatment.

If you suspect warning signs of depression in youth, raise your concerns directly with love and no judgment. Even if you establish that depression is not underpinning the emotions and behaviors you are witnessing, it is worth opening up a dialogue with your teen about those issues.

Start by telling your teen the specific symptoms you have noticed and why they give you cause for concern.

Next, invite your teen to share what they are going through. Listen without asking too many questions. You want to avoid crowding or patronizing your teen, while making it plain that you are prepared to provide whatever support is needed.

Depression is a complex mood disorder. While the condition usually responds positively to treatment, there is no universally effective treatment.

Some teenagers with depression benefit from psychotherapy (talk therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy). Others may require medication in the form of antidepressants. Some teens respond favorably to a combination of antidepressants and psychotherapy.

You can also encourage your teenager to help manage their depression by taking the following steps:

  • Asking for help
  • Staying healthy
  • Exercising for 30 minutes daily
  • Having realistic goals and expectations
  • Connecting with others
  • Journaling
  • Keeping life simple

If you decide you need to take the next step and connect your teen with the appropriate treatment, we can help you here at Los Angeles Therapy Network.

Depression Treatment at Los Angeles Therapy Network

Finding the right treatment for your teen will depend on the scope and severity of their symptoms of depression.

In most cases, a personalized combination of medications (antidepressants) and psychotherapy (CBT) will prove effective.

The FDA has approved two medications for the treatment of teen depression:

  • Prozac (fluoxetine)
  • Lexapro (escitalopram)

Your teen’s healthcare provider can outline medication options and explain the benefits, risks, and potential side effects.

By connecting with LATN, you can find a psychotherapist to help treat your teen’s depression. Both CBT and interpersonal therapy can be effective for treating teen depression. Family therapy may also be beneficial in some cases.

Therapy sessions can help your teen to:

  • Discover what causes depression
  • Identify unhealthy thoughts and behaviors, making changes as required
  • Regain a sense of control
  • Employ stronger coping mechanisms
  • Set more realistic goals
  • Sharpen problem-solving skills
  • Improve overall happiness

To help your teen with depression today, call Los Angeles Therapy Network today at 833.604.1287

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