Identifying Depression in Adolescents

By | November 2, 2013

Adolescents are known to be moody and irritable, and suffer mood swings frequently. Most parents with children about to hit their teenage years look toward these struggles with anxiety and apprehension. For teenagers to appear temperamental and seem to be on an emotional roller-coaster is natural, but teenage depression symptoms is a very different and far more serious problem. It is only recently that depression in adolescents has been recognised as a condition, and it is known to afflict more teenagers than recorded. With approximately only 20% of teens with depression being treated, there are many adolescents who are left to deal with this on their own.

Teens with Depression

Depression in adolescents is caused by a combination of factors. It could be a physical cause, such as the hormone spurt that the teen is experiencing, as well as the stressful process of physical and emotional maturation. It could also be a situational cause, triggered by events or feelings from the environment or life that the teen is experiencing. Family conflict, struggles with parents to assert oneself, break-ups or sexual misadventures, failure at school or feelings of being isolated, or death of a friend or loves one can all cause teenage depression symptoms. Depression in adolescents is treatable, but in some cases can continue into adult years.

Risk Factors for Depression in Adolescents

  • Children from broken homes due to death or divorce
  • Care giving that is irregular or negative
  • Victims of physical or sexual child abuse
  • Children with a family history of depression
  • Inability to interact socially
  • Adolescents with low self-esteem or self-loathing
  • Adolescents with negative body image
  • Teens who indulge in substance abuse

Recognizing Teenage Depression Symptoms

While girls are more susceptible to teenage depression symptoms than boys, the concern is that depression in adolescents is hard to diagnose. Most parents or caregivers assume that ‘teenagers are just being teenagers’ when they display signs such as irritability, anger, withdrawal from family, sleeping late in the mornings and staying up late at night. However, as an alert parent or caregiver, distinguishing between teens with depression and normal teenagers on a bad day can make all the difference.

  • Changes in behavior : Changes in sleeping patterns, daytime sleepiness, and loss or increase of appetite can be teenage depression symptoms. Other behavior such as missing school, shoplifting, indulging in criminal activity, or deliberately defying instructions can indicate depression.
  • Mood swings : Teens with depression will seem irritable, will often cry for no apparent reason, will be more forgetful than normal, and may even have problems concentrating or making decisions.
  • Social signs : Depression in adolescents often causes them to withdraw from family members and sometimes friends, choosing to spend time with a different set of peers or only one friend. They become less interested in activities, especially family activities, and could spend a lot of time alone.
  • Self-image : Depression is caused by or could result in a low sense of self-esteem, as well as feelings of worthlessness. Teens with depression often say things like “What’s the point of it all?” or “It makes no difference”.
  • Thoughts of death : Depression in adolescents can sometimes lead to thoughts of suicide or homicide. It could also lead teenagers to worry about death of their family or loved ones. This is one of the most serious teenage depression symptoms and should not be ignored.

Normal Behavior & Teenage Depression: Knowing the Difference

Deciding if teenage depression symptoms are normal teenage behavior or medical symptoms is difficult because it is also the natural behavioral tendencies of adolescents around the world. However, it pays to ask the following questions to decide if your child or ward suffers from depression in adolescents.

  • Does this behavior differ greatly from the norm?
  • How long has this been going on?
  • How severe are the symptoms?
  • Are there any signs of substance abuse?
  • Are there signs of eating disorders?
  • Are there signs of self-injury (cutting, burning, hair pulling)?

Adolescents with long-lasting behavior that is a dramatic change from the usual behavior are likely to be depressed. Complaints of headaches and stomach aches are also a common sign, especially if there is no medical or physical reason for the ailment.


  1. Depression in Children & Adolescents – National Institute of Mental Health
  2. Adolescent Depression – University of Maryland Medical Center

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