Written by:Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R

Published On: April 8, 2022

Medically reviewed by: Kate Rosenblatt, MA, LPC, LMHC

Reviewed On: April 8, 2022

Updated On: July 5, 2023


Teen depression can affect the way teenagers act, think, and feel. It can cause functional, physical, and psychological challenges in almost every aspect of their life. There are various factors that can contribute to depression in young adults, and while it’s normal for most teens to feel blue now and then, there’s a point where those emotions might have developed into something more — depression — and that’s something we need to pay attention to.

Thankfully, there are signs you can look for that might indicate your teen needs help. Knowing them is key.

Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about teens and depression. We’ll cover the depression symptoms and causes and how it’s different from adult depression. We’ll also look at some effective depression treatment options that can make your teenager’s life more energized, less stressful, and more content.

Is Depression in Teens Common?

Yes — depression in young adults is more common than many people believe. As adults, most of us understand that we’ll go through periods of disappointment, feeling overwhelmed, and depression at work or during demanding times of life. Actually, it’s both normal and healthy to do so.

However, when someone suffers from untreated depression or when depression lingers, it can cause very serious adverse effects in life. In 2020, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reported an estimated 4.1 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode.

Additionally, according to the Mental Health America report, in 2021, major depression in young adults increased to 9.7%, relative to the 2020 estimate of 9.2%. The report also showed that a young person between the ages 11 – 17 is at the highest risk of developing moderate-to-severe depression later in life.

Now let’s look at the signs and symptoms of teenage depression.

Signs & Symptoms of Depression in Teens

Depression is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of melancholy. Depression can manifest in a variety of ways during someone’s teen years, including:

  • Decreased or lost interest in things that used to be pleasurable
  • Anger and frustration, even over trivial matters
  • Feelings of shame, guilt, and worthlessness
  • Feeling detached or empty
  • Abrupt change in attitude, behavior, and mood swings
  • Loss of interest in friends or family
  • Conflict with friends and family
  • Persistent feelings of sadness
  • Crying for no apparent reason
  • Trouble making decisions
  • Trouble talking to friends
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Changes in sleep
  • Trouble in school/decreased academic performance
  • Low sense of self esteem or self worth
  • Thinking about suicide, or making suicide attempts

Sadly, that’s not all. Teen depression may also be presented as exaggerated self-blame, excessive self-criticism, persistent irritability, low self-esteem, unnecessary sensitivity to rejection, difficulty focusing, an impending sense of doom, fixation on past failures, and/or problems sleeping.

You might also notice your teenager begins to lose or gain weight, has a decreased appetite or begins binging on food, begins experimenting with alcohol ​​or drug use, is relentlessly agitated, is slow to think, frequently complains of body aches, suddenly performs poorly in school, shows decreased interest in personal hygiene, or starts to isolate socially.

In severe cases of teenage depression, a teenager may attempt self-harm through burning, cutting, piercing, or tattooing. Angry outbursts, risky behavior, and disruptive actions are also common. In the most extreme cases, suicidal thoughts, planning, or attempting suicide may come into the picture.

If you’ve noticed any of these signs or symptoms in yourself or a teenager in your life, a depression treatment option or diagnosis by a mental health professional may be beneficial. If you’re unaware of how to get diagnosed with depression, learn about steps towards a diagnosis.

“Parenting teenagers is challenging on a good day. It’s crucial to pay attention to these signs and changes if they arise. Listening to your teenager’s struggles and validating that they’re real is an important first step to getting help.”

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW-R), BC-TMH Jill Daino

How Does Depression Differ in Teens?

It can be challenging to differentiate between depression in teens across the gender spectrum and adults, and many symptoms can overlap. Have an open conversation with your teenager. Ask about their feelings. Take note of any significant changes in their behavior. Where adults often become withdrawn, isolated, or sad when they’re depressed, teens may seem more irritable, disrespectful, and angry than normal.

It is important to take note that oftentimes teens who struggle with depression (whether it’s major depressive disorder or dysthymia), can also be at risk for developing anxiety. Depression and anxiety in teens are directly associated with substance abuse and suicidal ideation. These conditions need to be addressed and treated. Stepping in as a loved one if you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms in your teen can change the course of their life.

As a family member or friend of someone struggling with adolescent depression, use the information you learn here to help determine if your teen seems overwhelmed or unable to cope well with the challenges of daily life.

“Being a teenager is challenging, as they have to navigate what’s happening in school, family life, with friends, and in a world that can feel like too much at times. It’s important to let them know that depression is treatable and that they can get help and support in therapy.”

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW-R), BC-TMH Jill Daino

Causes of Depression in Teens

The exact causes of depression in teen girls and girls is unknown, but many factors can contribute to this common mental health condition. Some can include:

  • Imbalanced levels of dopamine, serotonin, or other neurotransmitters in the brain
  • Experiencing or witnessing traumatic events
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • A history of other mental health conditions, like bipolar disorder
  • Having a condition that makes learning a challenge, like ADHD
  • Chronic pain
  • Diagnosis of a terminal disease
  • High levels of stress hormones like cortisol
  • A family history of depression or mental health conditions
  • Poor diet

Teen depression may also be correlated to trauma during early childhood, thyroid issues, or hormonal imbalance. In many cases, adolescent depression is not caused by just one risk factor but a combination of multiple factors.

Treatment for Depression in Teens

Early intervention is highly recommended and can lead to better outcomes because it can shorten the length and intensity of the depression by identifying the signs early on. Exploring evidence-based treatments with your therapist is the first course of action before moving into any self-care techniques. Evidence-based depression treatments include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Psychodynamic Therapy
  • Counseling
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT)
  • Problem-Solving Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Medication

Once the above treatments have been explored, moving into self-care techniques can help boost resilience and increase self-esteem when tough issues come up. For example, you can encourage your teen to:

  • Stay in touch with their thoughts and breathing, so their mind is calmer
  • Stay in touch with friends and family, so they have emotional support
  • Take care of their body with daily exercise, healthy food, and water
  • Seek light therapy for depression
  • Repeat a positive mantra to remind them that everything is OK
  • Spend time in nature
  • Do something creative, like dance, sing, write, or cook

There are many natural remedies for depression that effectively relax the mind, regain emotional control, and better manage symptoms of teen depression. Any treatment option or technique above works for teenage boys, girls, and adults alike. They help to shift your energy when you’re in a depressed mode, so that you can move toward a more positive way of living.

If you’re a teenager or young person experiencing symptoms of depression, if you’re dating someone with depression, or if you’re the parent or family member of a teen you believe may be depressed, consider consulting with a licensed mental health professional and exploring therapy for depression.

A therapist or psychologist has experience dealing with depression in young adults and can offer multiple therapeutic tools to help defeat depression on a long-term basis. Most importantly, know that depression isn’t something to be ashamed of or feel guilty about in your teen years or adulthood. Help is available, and your teen deserves it.

See References

Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R

Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R, BC-TMH, is a clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience as a therapist, clinical supervisor, and program director. She works to support quality clinical care at Talkspace. Her work as a clinician and trainer focuses on the mental health impact of body image concerns and eating disorders across the lifespan.

Effective and affordable mental health treatment

Get Started

Articles about Depression: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

View all articles

Effective and affordable mental health treatment

Get Started