Teen Depression Guide: Symptoms, Signs & Causes

by Polaris Teen Center | Nov 15, 2017 | Depression, Mental Health, Resources

what to know about teen depression

No matter who you might be, the teenage years are inevitably a difficult time. You are constantly feeling the pressures of the outside world demanding you to form an identity, figure out your life, and conform to your surroundings while still remaining unique.

But if you are a teenager with depression, life can even be more difficult. Even things that seem to be so easy for others—getting up in the morning, maintaining energy throughout the day, doing ordinary tasks, building positive relationships—can become impossible.

Teenagers who suffer from depression haven’t done anything wrong. There is nothing that is inherently wrong with them. But depression is something that can incredibly difficult to overcome on your own. If you are a parent of a teenager who suffers from depression, it is important to establish yourself as a reliable resource.

How do I know if my teenager is suffering from depression?

There are a lot of things that nearly every teenager suffers from that can be wrongfully interpreted as chronic depression. A lack of motivation, disinterest in their surroundings, self-consciousness, and sadness are all things most teenagers are going to experience occasionally. But the difference between teenagers who are sad and teenagers who are chronically depressed is that with depression, the symptoms are more relentless and severe.

If your teenager has been chronically suffering from any of the following symptoms, they may be suffering from depression:

  • An ongoing lack of energy
  • Consistently low mood
  • Difficulty finding motivation
  • Inability to complete ordinary tasks (school, work, chores, social interactions, etc.)
  • Low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, constant self-blame
  • Unexplained pessimism, grim outlooks, indifference to negative outcomes
  • Loss of interest in ordinary activities, relationships, and hobbies
  • Thoughts of death and dying, suicide ideation
  • Patterns of self-harm

Though many teenagers may feel inexplicably sad from time to time, actively experiencing these symptoms can be overwhelming. Many teenagers who are suffering from depression will try to conceal their symptoms because they are embarrassed, ashamed, or want to avoid feeling as if they are “burdening” those who love them.

If you believe that your teenager is suffering from depression, the first thing you should do is talk to them. Ask them how they’ve been, how they’ve been feeling, and if there is anything that has been bothering them. Though some teenagers will be resistant to opening up to their parents, trying to engage them in conversation can at least help you understand their situation a little bit better.

There is no shame in reaching out for professional help. Depression is something that can be actively addressed and treated. But treatment can only truly begin once you have received a proper diagnosis from a licensed professional. 

What are the causes of teenage depression?

The causes of depression are wide-ranging and complex. There is no single cause of depression that can be applied to every teenager who is suffering. However, there are several common variables associated with depression, and none of these variables are mutually exclusive.

  • Bullying, isolation, and other forms of social alienation
  • The presence of other mental health conditions such as anxiety, eating disorders, and learning disorders
  • A natural imbalance of certain chemicals that play an essential role in mental health—this can be caused by both genetics and environmental factors
  • Difficulties making friends, difficulties doing well in school, trouble at home, and other negative environmental experiences
  • Physical, mental, or sexual trauma (especially if left unaddressed)
  • Alcohol and drug abuse (including prescription drugs)
  • Rejection of identity (sexual identity, gender identity, sexual orientation, personal identities, etc.)

For many of these of things, it can be impossible to know if a depression triggering event has even taken place. Many teenagers who suffer from depression might keep their feelings to themselves, and conceal the fact that they are actively suffering. But if you believe that your teenager has been exposed to these frequent causes of depression, it is important to keep in mind that they are at risk. 

How is depression in teenagers different from depression in adults?

Depression is an indiscriminate mental health condition. Though there are certainly correlations that exist among certain demographics, it can affect people of any age, race, gender, or socioeconomic level. There is nobody—of any age—who you should declare “doesn’t have a reason to be depressed”. The causes are complicated and dynamic, and very rarely understood by those who do not know what the individual may be going through.

But while both teenagers and adults can be depressed, the symptoms of depression can manifest itself in different ways. There are a number of symptoms that have been noticeably correlated with teenage depression in particular, and these symptoms are things that parents ought to pay particularly close attention to.

  • Rapid changes in mood-teenagers are experiencing a tremendous amount of chemical and hormonal changes, unlike anything they have ever felt before. Because of these dramatic changes, teenagers who suffer from depression are increasingly likely to rapidly cycle between sadness, frustration, hostility, and outward aggression.
  • Physical pain without an obvious cause- another symptom associated with puberty, teenagers who suffer from depression are more likely to feel aches and pains for no apparent reason.
  • Hypersensitivity- while many adults with depression are able to retreat or (outwardly) suppress their feelings, teenagers typically have a more difficult time doing so. Teenagers who suffer from depression are increasingly likely to be negatively triggered by criticism, influenced by environmental factors, or have sudden losses of self-esteem.

How can I help my depressed teenager?

Parents inevitably play an important role in their teenager’s lives, and if you are a parent of a teenager who is actively suffering from depression, you can be a part of the long-term solution. Because of the symptoms and stigmas associated with depression, many people who are depressed are unable to take the initiative to change on their own. But with love, care, and proper guidance, recovery is something that is very possible.

  • Talk to your teenager. Even if it seems like your words are being ignored, if you can make it clear that you love and support them, your help can go a long way.
  • Create a stable, open, and loving environment. The role you play as a parent is crucial. Though the presence of depression may be caused by something entirely beyond your ability to control, what you can control is your domestic environment.
  • Be sympathetic. Phrases such as “why don’t you just get up and work”, “I don’t see why you’d have any reason to be depressed”, “I’m sure you’re just overreacting” demonstrate an utter lack of sympathy and can be profoundly damaging to someone who is depressed. Instead, show that you are willing to understand why they might be having a hard time with things, and show that you want to be a part of the solution.
  • Seek professional help. No matter how much you may love your child, there are some things that are beyond your ability to properly address. There are many resources out there designed for people who suffer from depression, and you can play a key role in directing them to where they need to be.

Depression can make life difficult, but that doesn’t mean it has to be impossible. If you are willing to try to understand what your teenager is going through, you can quickly become the sort of resource they have been looking for.

Polaris is a residential treatment center for teens & adolescents suffering from mental health disorders. If your loved one is struggling, it’s important to find the right help, quickly. Our youth programs are designed to give teens the specific tools they need to become successful, thriving adults. Discover the Polaris difference. To learn more about our treatment options, or to speak to an admissions specialist, pick up the phone and reach us direct at 1-844-836-0222.


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Polaris Teen Center is a residential treatment facility for teens and adolescents suffering from severe mental health disorders. Our highly accredited facility is fully licensed and certified in Trauma Informed Care and is a part of the Behavioral Health Association of Providers (formerly AATA).