How to Know if Your Teenager is Depressed
WhatToGetMy Instructional Article
- Find out all you need to know about teenage depression, the signs and symptoms of teenage depression, and how to help teens with depression.
The statistics on teenage depression.
Percentage of U.S. high school students who felt sad or hopeless in 2019, by gender and ethnicity. Source: Statista
Percentage of U.S. high school students who have seriously considered attempting suicide as of 2019, by ethnicity and sexual identity. Source: Statista
Out of 13,667 high school teenagers interviewed between August 2018 and June 2019, an average of 56.52% reported feeling sad and hopeless (the first chart, source link here). And just in case you were in doubt, feelings of sadness and hopelessness are synonymous with feeling depressed. More than half of 13,667 students were feeling depressed. That is very unsettling and disturbing.
And it doesn’t get any better. According to the second chart (source link here), out of the same number of students, an average of 37.6% of them reported having seriously considered attempting suicide.
And speaking of the particular subject of suicide, a survey seen below, showed that in 2017, teenage suicide amongst teenagers aged 15 to 19 stood at 11.8%. Another survey from the same put the figure at 22.9%. And as of 2019 (according to this survey), at least 10.2% of female teens were on antidepressants as a way of combating/dealing with depression. This chart on antidepressants also reveals that it would appear that more female teens try to treat depression, more than male teens.
Suicide rate in the U.S. among teenagers aged 15 to 19 from 2010 to 2017. Source: Statista
Distribution of the 10 leading causes of death among teenagers aged 15 to 19 years in the United States in 2017. Source: Statista
Percentage of teenagers in the United States taking antidepressants from 2015 to 2019, by gender. Source: Statista
These figures are by any standard a cause for concern and underscore the gravity of teenage depression and why it is very important to help teens with depression. It is rather depressing to see how depression affects the lives of our children.
It is known that depression leads down a downward spiral of negative and dangerous lifestyle choices that in turn badly affect the future of our teenagers. And this is why depression in teenagers must be detected early and treated early. The signs and symptoms that will help with early detection are discussed in the next section.
What are the symptoms of teenage depression? 13 Signs and symptoms of teenage depression.
Sometimes it is difficult knowing when a teenager is suffering from depression. The challenge is always knowing whether the teenager’s actions are all part of youthful exuberance and therefore not a cause for concern. Or whether they are symptoms of a much bigger underlying problem such as depression, and therefore a cry for help.
This chart from a 2013 survey of 1,018 teenagers aged 13 to 17, provides very helpful insight into the symptoms a depressed teenager will exhibit, to give you the warning signs of adolescent depression.
Stress symptoms during the past month reported by U.S. teeneagers in 2013. Source: Statista
Once your teenager displays any of these 13 signs consistently for a period of two weeks and more, you should take the steps that will be discussed in the next sections.
1. Unstable emotional behavior.
A depressed teenager will suddenly become a rollercoaster of emotions because of the feelings of sadness and hopelessness they feel inside. This will in turn make them lash out with the following emotional responses:
- They may become very irritable and touchy. Even things they would take as harmless jokes before become a source of annoyance and irritation;
- They start to get angry and frustrated easily. Temper tantrums become a new normal and they may resort to running to their rooms and banging the door in anger. You may consider it a mark of disrespect but it is something to pay attention to. That action could be a cry for help, especially if it’s never been their way of behaving before;
- Sometimes you find them sulking and moody for no apparent reason. And when in that mood, they can bite off anyone’s head;
- For a female teenager, she may get emotional at times and suddenly start to cry out of the blues.
2. Suicidal thoughts and plans.
This is the biggest worrying symptom of depression in teenagers. As the above stats show, a worrying number of depressed teens actually act out their suicidal thoughts. They may display some of these suicide ideations:
- Giving away the things/possessions they value so much;
- Painting a romantic picture about dying;
- Making fleeting references about how there’s no point to life and living, or imagining how it will be to sleep and never wake up because life is too hard or has no meaning anymore.
- Asking about pills and injections;
- In disturbing instances, they may start to cut themselves.
Once you notice any of these, it is an urgent call for help that should not be ignored or taken for granted.
3. Eating disorder.
Once you notice that your teenager has suddenly changed their eating habit, either to eat too little or too much, or in some cases indulge more in comfort food, it is a worrisome sign. Some teenagers use eating as a way of coping with depression, especially if the issue that is causing the depression has to do with his/her body image.
4. Sleeping disorder.
Depression affects one’s sleep pattern. It is either they start sleeping way less, or they oversleep. We explain depression and oversleeping in our article on Why do depressed people sleep so much, be sure to check it out. If you notice that suddenly their sleep pattern has become very unstable, this might be because of depression.
5. Drug and alcohol abuse.
Substance and drug abuse become a coping mechanism when a teenager is battling depression (and anxiety).
6. Poor performance at school.
When a teenager starts to feel depressed, they couldn’t be bothered about school anymore or their grades. It won’t be long and their grades start to suffer. If your teenager has always done fairly well in school and suddenly their grades start to suffer, it is a silent cry for help. She/he might be going through depression, and it is affecting their grades.
7. Oversensitivity to criticism.
A depressed teenager does not take criticism too well. They start to see criticism as an attack rather than someone trying to help them.
8. Weight gain or loss.
This would be as a result of the bad eating patterns brought about by depression. Where your teen’s weight starts fluctuating or spiraling out of control, it is a cause for concern as there could be an underlying issue of depression.
9. Risky behavior and a Rebellious streak.
They may start indulging in risky behaviors like engaging in unprotected sex or keeping late nights. Or they may become rebellious. Both behaviors are coping mechanisms being used to dull the pain or to try and block out the reality of how they truly feel on the inside.
10. Feeling overwhelmed.
The sad thing about this symptom is that you won’t be able to know because they may not show it but deep inside they have a sense of feeling overwhelmed. They feel overwhelmed by the weight of the pain that is the cause of the feeling of depression. The different emotions they find themselves feeling all at once can cause a deep sense of feeling rather overwhelmed and heavy.
11. Body aches especially headaches and stomach aches.
Once they start complaining of headaches and stomach aches or other body pain/ache that can’t seem to have any known medical explanation, it is most likely brought about by depression. Depression affects the mind, and this will in turn take a toll on the body and cause physical body pains.
12. Fatigue and general tiredness.
This is another effect of depression on the physical body. The feelings of tiredness will flow from the drain on the mind due to overthinking and feeling overwhelmed.
13. Self-esteem issues.
A depressed teenager may struggle with self-esteem issues especially if they are struggling with their body image. If you notice your teenager being overly conscious and worried about how they look or spending an unhealthy amount of time in front of the mirror, it is something to be taken too lightly. They may be dealing with an underlying self-esteem issue.
Even if your teenager may not be depressed, any of these signs and symptoms in their general behavior is still a cause for concern and something to be taken seriously.
What to do if your teenager is depressed – Dealing with teenage depression; Therapy for teenage depression; and How to help teens with depression.
Stress management techniques reported by U.S. teens in 2013. Source: Statista
From this 2013 survey, a not so encouraging 43% of teenagers reported using the internet to cope with depression, while 36% watched television. This is not supposed to be the case because the more time spent in front of the television and on the internet, the less time is given to addressing the root issue, which is depression.
Not all the strategies in this chart are the best. Rather adopt the following helpful therapy for teenage depression.
1. Encourage them to sleep well.
Getting enough sleep is very important for a teenager with depression. Encourage them to get at least 9 – 10 hours of sleep which is the amount of sleep a teenager should get every day. Try to be firm with ensuring that they don’t sacrifice their sleep time for watching television or surfing the internet. At a certain time push them to call it a night, and if possible have them leave their phones and tablets behind.
If it becomes a challenge, you can encourage them by making a challenge and telling them that if they can sleep for 9 hours consecutively for a whole week, they will get a prize. The prize should be something they really want. In that way, they would likely be motivated to push themselves to go to sleep early. By the time they have a go at it for a week, they would start to enjoy it and start feeling better too.
And if they are struggling to sleep, our article on Best gifts to help sleep has just the right selection of what you can buy to help them sleep. And as much as possible, encourage them to try not to think while sleeping.
2. Encourage them to eat well.
Proper and healthy eating is vital and important when a teenager is going through depression. Unhealthy food items like processed foods and sugary food items should be kept at the barest minimum. And if you don’t know what types of healthy food options to start with, check our article on What foods should we eat to maintain a healthy lifestyle to give you a good head start.
You will also love this related article on How can we protect our health and lengthen our lives.
3. Encourage them to exercise.
Exercise and staying fit is another helpful way to help deal with depression. Regular physical fitness activities can help in releasing feel-good hormones in their system, which will in turn help with lifting their mood and spirit. And if you wanted tips on how to encourage them to start exercising, our resourceful article on How to get motivated to exercise when depressed can give you talking points to encourage them with.
And you can make it easy for them by joining them to exercise. After all, there is a great benefit to families exercising together.
4. Spend more time with them.
When your teenager is going through depression, they feel isolated and alone. They feel like nobody understands or cares, or wants to spend time with them. And so, at such a time, spending quality time with them is very important. Spend quality time with them in the following ways:
- Talk with them. Ask them how they are feeling and what type of things they like. Don’t be preachy or judgmental. Let them talk and just be there to listen and encourage them. This will help them in building back their self-esteem and the likes.
- Do things like cooking/baking together, and painting together
- Take them out for social hangouts like lunch dates, ice cream dates, bowling, and the likes.
- Go for nature walks or just take the dog out for a walk.
- Watch movies with them.
- If it’s a female teenager go out for girly things like going to the spa/salon, shopping.
5. Monitor their interests and hobbies and less time should be spent on the internet and television.
Spending a great deal of time in front of the television or on the internet will only serve to delay dealing with the issues they are facing. As much as possible try some teenage behavior management strategy that involves being firm about how much time is spent on the television and the internet.
Encourage them to have more interests and hobbies that would keep them usefully engaged and productive. And if you need ideas, why not check out our very helpful article on Teenage interests and hobbies.
6. Engage them in sports and other extracurricular activities.
You can buy an easy to set up basketball hoop or pack your bags and go hiking or camping, or any other popular sports or extracurricular activities that they would like. This will keep them actively and productively engaged and make them see that there is more to live for.
This helpful article on Sports gifts for teenage guys will help you with more sports items to buy for a teenager.
7. Encourage them to volunteer and give back.
Giving and volunteering are great generosity activities that help alleviate feelings of depression. It will also make them realize that they can contribute and make an impact in another person’s life. Encourage them by asking them what type of causes they want to support, and find organizations around that sponsor it and sign them up.
Check out this related and helpful article on How to teach your child to give back.
8. Push them to go out and spend more time with friends.
This is an important part of recovery because you don’t want them staying indoors all the time and brooding. Social interactions are important in recovering from depression. Encourage them to spend more time with friends.
If this is proving challenging the first few times, you can suggest that they invite their friends over for a house party. Our articles on How to throw a teenage house party and How to make a teenage party fun can help you with organizing that house party.
9. And finally, get them professional help.
All the above 8 strategies are ways to try and manage the problem. For a more sustainable and long-lasting solution to the problem, it is best to get them professional help with a trained therapist who specializes in dealing with depressed teenagers.
How to talk to a depressed teenager.
It is important to adopt the right strategy in talking to your depressed teenager. This is because adopting the wrong approach will only serve to push them further away from you and further inside the shell of depression, and that is never a good thing. Adopt the following approach in talking to a depressed teenager.
1. Open the channel of communication by telling them that you won’t judge them, that you just want to listen.
Teenagers often keep their feelings of depression away from their parents because they are afraid you won’t understand and will instead judge them and talk down on them or make them feel very guilty.
To encourage them to open up, tell them that you won’t judge them. That you just want to listen.
2. Then dispassionately listen to them. Don’t judge them or get preachy.
This is very important. It will be hard and you will be tempted to want to tell them what is wrong with how they feel or why they shouldn’t be feeling that way, but try and restrain yourself. Don’t preach. Don’t judge. Just listen dispassionately.
3. Be relatable. Tell them you know how they feel, even if you don’t.
Does this sound like lying? Maybe, but telling them that would help them greatly because it will lift the burden of shame that they feel due to how they feel.
If you felt that way as a teenager, it would be a great time to share that experience with them. You have no idea how much of an impact it will have on them knowing that even though mom or dad have it all together now, they were once like me. This will make them feel normal and give them the strength and courage that they can go through the depressive episode and come out stronger and better.
4. Tell them you are there for them no matter what and that you want them to trust you because you won’t judge them.
When they know that you won’t judge them, they will always open up to you.
5. Ask them how you can help.
This also tells them that you’re not trying to fix them, but want to help them on their own terms, adopting what works for them. When they’ve finally become very comfortable with talking about the issue with you, you can start prodding them towards going to see a professional, by asking them how they feel about it.
6. Take their mind off the heavy stuff with fun and exciting things.
Talk about everything else but the heavy stuff. Play fun games and the likes.
How to motivate a teenager with depression.
Motivation is key when someone is going through a depressive episode, and this is no different for a depressed teenager. You can motivate them in the following ways.
1. Do the fun things they like doing with them.
Ask them what fun things they want to do and join them on the fun adventure. You would be pleasantly surprised at how much stuff you get to learn from them.
2. Hang out with them and go out often.
When you hang out with them you get to talk and when they start becoming more comfortable with talking to you, it will open the door for you to eventually get them to receive your encouragement without feeling like you’re preaching to them.
3. Buy a journal and give them to write out how they feel and the positive things they want to do.
Journaling is a great way to get out pent-up thoughts and emotions. Keeping a journal will help them write exactly how they are feeling. Encourage them to share their journal with you, or if they prefer, to tell you the fun things they wrote down they want to do.
4. Help them do as much of the things you can do from their list.
Asking them what they wrote down may not be enough. It would be more fun to do some of the things on their list with them. When you make out that kind of time for them and give them that kind of attention, not only do you show them that you love them unconditionally, but you also show them that there is so much to live for and be grateful for.
5. Give them small rewards for accomplishing the things on their list.
Small rewards will encourage them to keep doing more of the things on their list. And the more they do those things, the more they realize there is fun to life and that there is no need to be depressed. Encouraging them also makes them feel like they’ve accomplished something remarkable, and this is good for their self-esteem.
6. Encourage them to volunteer and help someone or a cause.
Volunteerism is a great way to keep anyone motivated, and it will have the same effect on a depressed teenager.
My son is depressed and suicidal, what do I do? – How to help a teenager with suicidal thoughts.
Once a depressed teenager starts to display suicidal ideations, without delay take action. Involve the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on their hotline – 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use their webchat on suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat. Alternatively, call 911.
Frequently Asked Questions.
- What are some warning signs of adolescent depression?
The 13 signs listed in this article are the common warning signs of adolescent depression.
- How to help my son, daughter, a teenager with depression and anxiety?
You can help by adopting all the strategies listed in this article.
- Do you know of any medication for teenage depression and anxiety?
It is best to seek professional medical help with getting an antidepressant. They will be better placed to recommend one that is medically suitable for your teenage child.
Early detection of teenage depression is crucial to combating it and forestalling the negative impacts like suicide. Once you notice any of the 13 signs and symptoms listed in this article, do not hesitate. Engage with your teenager following the steps outlined in this article, and get them the needed help before it might be too late.
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