Adolescent Depression

Adolescent depression shares the same medical characteristics as depression in adults, yet its symptoms may present differently in teenagers. This variation could be attributed to the unique social and developmental challenges adolescents encounter, including peer pressure, fluctuating hormone levels, and physical changes. It’s crucial to understand that depression is not a condition that individuals can easily overcome by “snapping out of it” or simply “cheering up.” It is a legitimate medical condition that, if left untreated, can profoundly impact various aspects of a person’s life.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that in 2017, approximately 3.2 million Americans aged 12 to 17 experienced at least one major depressive episode. This represents 13.3 percent of adolescents within this age group in the United States. Females were observed to be approximately three times more likely than males to report experiencing a depressive episode.

How Does One Know Their Teenager Is Depressed?

Identifying the symptoms of depression in teenagers can pose a challenge for parents. Depression may be mistaken for typical puberty-related emotions or adjustments to adolescence.

However, it’s important to recognize that depression goes beyond occasional boredom or disinterest in school. As noted by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), signs of teenage depression include:

  • appearing sad or irritable
  • crying spells
  • changes in appetite or weight (poor appetite is the most common)
  • a decreased interest in activities once seen as pleasurable (anhedonia)
  • feeling fatigued/lethargic
  • difficulty concentrating or maintaining focus
  • feelings of guilt
  • worthlessness, or helplessness
  • alcohol or drug misuse
  • major changes in sleeping habits, difficulty falling asleep or early AM wakening
  • regular complaints of boredom
  • talking about or thinking of suicide
  • withdrawal from friends or after-school activities
  • worsening school performance

Risk Factors for Adolescent Depression

Factors that may increase a teen’s risk for depression include:

  • a family crisis, such as death or divorce
  • having a difficult time with their sexual orientation, in the case of teens who are LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and more)
  • having trouble adjusting socially
  • having no social or emotional support
  • living in a violent household
  • being bullied
  • having a chronic illness
  • Teens who have trouble adjusting socially or who lack a support system have an especially high risk of depression.

Once a diagnosis is made, depression in teens is highly treatable.


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