How to Tell if Your Teenager is Depressed

The teenage years can be tumultuous for every family which is one of the reasons so many parents struggle with understanding when their teenager’s behavior is normal and when it points to a problem.  This is especially true when the problem is clinical depression.  Teenagers are moody.  To parents, it can seem like they are angry at everything.  Small slights like fighting with a friend can seem to block out even the best news or happiest times.  Parents who are looking to help but don’t want to do more harm than good may feel like they are floundering and wondering how to tell if their teenager is depressed.

A Matter of Degrees

Part of the problem comes from our common use of the terms depressed, depressing, and depression.  Your teen may announce that she is depressed because everyone else is going to the dance this weekend and she has to work.  But that doesn’t really mean she is suffering from clinical depression.  The difference is a matter of degree – depressing is today, depressed is this month.  It may seem like a fine line but there are some key things that parents can look for to determine the difference between a bad day and a big deal.

Changes, Big and Small

There are some specific signs that parents can watch out for if they are worried about their child’s mental health.  These changes generally manifest in two areas, emotionally and physically.   Some teenagers will have many symptoms, others won’t.  The important thing is to know the signs so that you know when it is time to take action and when it is time to take a step back.

Common emotional changes that can signify depression include:

  • An overwhelming sense of sadness
  • Bursting into tears or experiencing crying spells that have no obvious cause
  • Easily irritable
  • Quick to anger, especially over little things
  • Losing interest in friends or favorite activities
  • Inability to find pleasure in doing things that were previously pleasurable
  • Fighting with or distancing oneself from friends and family members
  • Losing interest in friendships and spending time with friends
  • Feeling worthless
  • Focusing on negative events or failures
  • Blaming oneself for everything that is not right in their lives
  • Being highly self-critical
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Overly sensitive to criticism
  • Feelings that their future is limited and bleak
  • Suicidal thoughts

Common physical changes that can signify depression include:

  • Excessive and unexplained tiredness or fatigue
  • Lack of or loss of energy
  • Not sleeping enough
  • Sleeping all the time
  • Not eating
  • Losing weight unintentionally
  • Overeating
  • Substance abuse
  • Acting agitated
  • Slowed response times
  • Physical discomfort from aches, pains, and headaches that have no medical basis
  • Rapid decrease in school performance
  • Stops taking care of their physical appearance
  • High risk behavior
  • Self-harm, like cutting

If you suspect your teen may be having more than just a bad day, make an appointment with a mental health practitioner to have them evaluated.  Since depression doesn’t normally get better without assistance, getting help as early as possible is the best course of action you can take.


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