Depression and Teens

Depression is a common mental illness and can affect as many as one in eight adolescents. While depression does tend to affect more females than males during adolescence and adulthood, it generally does not discriminate, affecting people of every color, race, economic status, and age. However, many people do not recognize depression when it happens to themselves or to someone close to them. Some people are even mistaken about what it means to be depressed. Because many people are not more educated about depression, they may not seek help or may criticize themselves or others for just being “lazy” or for not changing their attitude or shaking their mood. And the lack of treatment and judgmental reactions can make things even worse. So read on to learn more about signs and symptoms of depression in teens, possible preventative measures and treatment options when dealing with this particular mood disorder.


Signs and Symptoms of Depression:

The following symptoms may indicate depression, particularly when they last for more than two weeks: 

  • Poor performance in school
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Sadness and hopelessness
  • Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation
  • Anger and rage
  • Overreaction to criticism
  • Feelings of being unable to satisfy ideals
  • Poor self-esteem or guilt
  • Indecision, lack of concentration or forgetfulness
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Substance abuse
  • Problems with authority
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions


Possible Prevention Methods For Teen Depression:

Because there are genetic components to depression which cannot be changed, it is important to understand that teen depression cannot always be prevented. However, there are some environmental triggers to consider which can help reduce the chances of an episode of depression for a teen at risk. 

The first step in preventing depressive episodes is to consider if the teen is at risk for depression. Some of the risk factors for teen depression include: 

  • A family or personal history of depression 
  • A long-term illness or disability, whether physical or mental 
  • Experiencing a trauma or loss, including abuse, divorce of parents, death of a loved one, or a break-up 
  • Difficulties at home, at school, or with friends


If you are a teen who has suffered from depression, or who has other risk factors for teen depression, there are some things you can do to help prevent an episode of depression: 

  • Avoid drugs and alcohol—these substances can trigger depression. 
  • Associate with friends who have positive goals and who engage in constructive activities. 
  • Develop a good social support system with family members, teachers, and friends. Consider participating in group therapy and/or support groups. 
  • Learn healthy ways to deal with choices, stress, and life changes. 
  • Participate in cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of therapy can help you to recognize if you have negative thought patterns and to change those patterns. 
  • Take any medication prescribed to you as directed. Always consult with a doctor before stopping medication or trying alternative medications. 
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. 
  • Exercise regularly to help manage stress and elevate the mood. 
  • Get a sufficient amount of sleep, try to stay on a regular sleep pattern, and avoid having distractions in the bedroom (such as homework or television) that will disrupt your sleep schedule. In addition, exercise earlier in the day rather than closer to bedtime as exercising late in the day can make it harder for some people to fall asleep. 
  • Consider keeping a journal or finding other positive ways to deal with your emotions.
  • Become aware of personal triggers for depressive episodes and find ways to avoid or better deal with those triggers. 
  • Allow time for normal grieving after a loss, but if recovery does not occur, seek counseling. 
  • Avoid anything you know may trigger depression for you, including music, activities, people, or styles of dress and grooming that bring on feelings of depression. 
  • Get help if you suffer from any other disorders, such as eating disorders, learning disabilities, or substance abuse problems.


Treating Teenage Depression:

Teenage depression varies from person to person in severity – however, no matter what the level of severity it is important to seek treatment out as soon as possible. There are many different types of treatment available which can be very beneficial. And it is important to have a treatment plan in place so that the amount of time the depression interferes with a teenager’s life can be reduced, as well as to decrease the risk for suicide. If there is any concern that depressive symptoms may be present, schedule an evaluation as soon as possible with a mental health professional, such as a social worker, psychologist, licensed professional counselor, or psychiatrist. A consultation will make it possible to get an accurate diagnosis, as well as to formulate an effective treatment plan based on the diagnosis. A mental health professional may also recommend an evaluation by a healthcare provider, who can rule out physical illnesses that can cause some of the symptoms of teen depression, such as hypothyroidism and anemia.


Therapy is an important part of treating teen depression. It is important to find a therapist trained in working with adolescents and with mood disorders. It is also critical that the teen feels comfortable with the therapist. To treat the depression a teen may participate in individual and/or group therapy. This will help the teen learn to recognize and change the negative thoughts that may cause or trigger depression, find better ways to solve problems, and learn better social and interpersonal skills. Family therapy is also recommended for teens who are dealing with depression as this modality can help parents become better educated about contributing factors to depression and available treatment options, as well as to help parents and their teens understand the relationship dynamics that can help alleviate depressive symptoms or exacerbate the depressive episodes.


Treatment might also include a consultation with a psychiatrist to evaluate whether or not psychotropic medications would be useful. If a psychiatrist does think that medication may be helpful, there may be a trial and error period of trying different medications and various dosages to find what works for that particular teen. There has been concern that some antidepressant drugs do have some potentially problematic side-effects, including suicidal behavior, so it is important for friends and family to watch for the warning signs of suicide in a teen taking antidepressants. These signs can include talking about death or suicide or giving away personal possessions. 


If a teenager’s depression is so severe that he/she has become suicidal or experiences hallucinations, it may be necessary for that teen to be admitted to an inpatient psychiatric hospital. This kind of hospitalization is generally a short-term stay with the goal of stabilizing the teen so they are not in danger of harming themselves or so that any hallucinations are under control. Upon discharge, arrangements will be made for long-term outpatient treatment for continued care. 


Some things that teens can do to help with their depression include: 

  • Getting help right away; not waiting to see if depression will get better.
  • Attend scheduled therapy and do not stop taking medications or take alternative treatments without talking to your doctor.
  • Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and get enough sleep.
  • Participate in positive activities; even small activities like personal grooming help.
  • Keep a journal about how you feel to help yourself and your doctor or therapist determine triggers and effective treatments for your depression.
  • Consider having a no-suicide contract, either verbal or written.
  • Learn about teen depression and remember that you can feel better.


Remember that if you feel suicidal, it is important tell someone and call 911 or a suicide hotline immediately. 


Helping A Teen Who Is Depressed:

If you know a teen who suffers from or is at risk for depression, you can help the teen by: 

  • Talking and listening to him or her 
  • Encouraging him or her to be involved in positive activities and to take good care of him or herself 
  • Being fair when dealing with or disciplining the teen, as the parent 
  • Setting a good example by taking good care of yourself and getting help if you feel depressed or overwhelmed.
  • Encouraging that teen to be in treatment for his/’her depression. Teens who suffer from episodes of depression should be meeting with a mental health professional to treat their depression and address the presence of any suicidal thoughts.
  • Encouraging the teens to take good care of him/herself, letting the teen know that he/she has value, being patient and not telling the teen to "snap out of it.”
  • Always taking suicide threats seriously and making sure that responsible adults in the teen’s life are informed about any suicidal gestures, comments or threats.



If you live in northern New Jersey and need help finding a therapist you can call the Access Center from Atlantic Behavioral Health at 888-247-1400. 

If you have health insurance, you can also contact your insurance company for a list of in-network mental health providers in your area. If you do not have health insurance, check in your area for hospitals or clinics that offer mental health services with sliding scale fees or reduced or no cost therapy. You can also check with your primary care physician or school counselor for referrals for therapists in your area.

If your depression becomes severe enough that you get to the point where you are seriously considering suicide or are afraid of your impulses then you need to seek help immediately. You can call 911 or go to your nearest hospital emergency room. In northern New Jersey you can also call the crisis hotline from Morristown Memorial hospital at 973-540-0100. Outside this area call the Suicide & Crisis Hotline, 1-800-273-8255, 24 hours, 7 days a week.