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Although parents sometimes discount the odd behaviors of a teenage son or daughter as just “typical teenage moodiness” teens with depression face a lot more than just normal adolescent angst.

Between 4 and 5% of teens will experience a major depression during their adolescent years.

Only about a third of these teens will receive treatment, yet treatment can help to reduce the symptoms of teen depression in about 80% of cases.

What Are the Symptoms of Teen Depression?

Few teenagers seek help for depression on their own, in most cases, it is a concerned parent, teacher or friend that raises the alarm and causes the initiation of treatment.

For this reason, it is important for anyone who lives or works with adolescents to know the signs and symptoms of teen depression.

The symptoms of teen depression can include:

  • Regular sadness, crying spells, or feelings of guilt or hopelessness
  • Anger, aggression or irritability
  • Changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • A sudden and sustained drop in school performance
  • Social withdrawal
  • Feelings of low self esteem or low self confidence
  • Indecisiveness and forgetfulness
  • Unexplained and frequently occurring aches and pains
  • Feeling very sensitive to criticism
  • A lack of motivation or energy to do much of anything
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Frequent boredom
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

Teens who display any of these symptoms for 2 weeks or longer may have a treatable mental illness.

Who Is Most at Risk for Teen Depression?

Having a close relative who has experienced a major depression increases your risks for the disorder; depression is a genetic disease, but genetics do not tell the whole story. Some people who are very genetically susceptible to the disorder never experience it, and other people who have no family history of depression, succumb. Environmental factors are significant.

  • Stress is a major causative factor for depression. Living in a home with a lot of conflict, breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend or suffering from trauma or assault are all the kinds of events that can increase stress and increase the risks of depression.
  • Teens who have low self esteem or who have a very critical or pessimistic personality type may be at increased risk
  • Poor school performance is correlated with an increased risk of depression
  • Recent research indicates that teens who chronically under sleep may be at an increased risk
  • Poor social skills are correlated with increased incidence rates

Girls are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression, due likely not to an increased incidence rate but rather to an under diagnosis of depression in men of all ages.

Teen Depression Treatments

Depression treatments for teens are similar to those for adults, and they work very well for the majority of people. Depression does not necessarily go away or get better on its own – sometimes it gets worse and lasts for years. The sooner a depressed teen initiates treatment, the sooner they can start feeling good again.

A doctor will likely want to test for and exclude certain medical conditions (such as hyperthyroidism) that can cause depressive symptoms.

The 2 most common treatments for teen depression are:

  1. Psychotherapy (talk therapy)
  2. Antidepressant medications

Although SSRIs (the most commonly prescribed medication for teen depression) have been implicated in some incidents of suicidal ideations and attempts, most experts still recommended their use. The SSRIs are better tolerated than other types of antidepressant and most experts feel that the advantages of medication treatment outweigh the slight risks. Experts will recommend that parents of teens using SSRIs pay close attention to changes in behavior and to any signs that might indicate a worsening of depression or suicidal thoughts, particularly during the initial phase of medication treatment.

Lifestyle Modifications

Teens diagnosed with depression should always seek professional help and should generally comply with recommended treatments. In addition to medication and psychotherapy though, teens can make certain lifestyle modifications that can prove helpful, such as:

  • Making sure to get enough sleep
  • Eating a healthy diet moderate in carbohydrates
  • Engaging in regular cardiovascular exercise
  • Minimizing life stresses as much as possible
  • Keeping a journal
  • Avoiding alcohol and drugs

Teen Depression and Suicide

  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens, and teens with depression are 12 times more likely to attempt suicide
  • 90% of those that commit suicide have a mental illness and 80% of teens who commit suicide ask someone for help in the period leading up to the event
  • Girls are far more likely to attempt suicide, but teen boys are far more likely to succeed. Teen boys are more likely to use guns, and guns are used in about half of all successful suicides
  • According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Center, 1 in 5 teens has thought about suicide

Please read teen suicide risk factors and signs, for a more complete overview of the subject.

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Page last updated May 18, 2013

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