Warning Signs of Teen Depression

Teen depression is more than feeling down, sad, or moody; everyone feels this way sometimes, and the teenage years can be especially challenging. But when a teen feels this way for weeks or months, it may indicate that he or she has teen depression. There are several forms of teen depression, including major depression, dysthymia, bipolar disorder, and seasonal depression. Depression in teens is similar to depression in adults, but often goes unrecognized, making it difficult for teens with depression to get the help they need.

Major depression in teens is considered to be a feeling of sadness or hopelessness that lasts more than two weeks. It usually interferes with everyday activities, including eating, sleeping, schoolwork, and social activities. Some warning signs that you or a teenager you known may be experiencing major depression include:

  • Feeling down or sad; crying for no reason
  • Feeling listless and unable to do even simple things
  • Apathy, or lack of interest in activities that used to bring pleasure
  • Changes in appearance, especially due to loss of interest in hygiene or personal grooming
  • A desire to be alone, characterized by trouble with relationships and turning away from friends
  • Feeling irritable, angry, or anxious
  • Inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Noticeable changes in appetite or weight
  • Changes in sleep patterns, especially insomnia or extreme fatigue
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Aches and pains without any obvious cause
  • Being overly sensitive about rejection or failures
  • Running away from home
  • Missing school or poor school performance
  • Behavioral problems at school
  • Speaking or moving more slowly than normal
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Thinking about death or suicide, or not caring about the future

Teen dysthymia has less severe symptoms than major depression, but it lasts longer and can interfere with feeling happy and functioning well. The symptoms of dysthymia can include more mild forms of the symptoms of major depression. Usually at least two of the following will be present for a year or more in teen dysthymia:

  • A sense of sadness, sometimes lasting so long the teen thinks sadness is normal
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sleep problems, including insomnia or extreme fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Noticeable changes in eating habits or weight

A less common form of depression in teens is bipolar disorder, though it can develop in the teenage years, especially in teens who have other forms of depression. It is characterized by a teen alternating between the symptoms of depression and mania. Some symptoms of mania are:

  • Increased energy and decreased need for sleep
  • Increased movement and talking; talking loudly and rapidly
  • Inappropriate social behavior
  • Unexplained elation
  • Grandiose ideas and feelings
  • Indecisiveness
  • Poor judgement
  • Racing thoughts
  • Messy, disorganized, and sometimes creative work

Seasonal depression is also somewhat less common in teens than in adults, but some teenagers experience this form of depression. Teens with seasonal depression experience the symptoms of depression during just one part of the year, usually the winter.

If you suspect that you or someone you know has depression, seek medical attention from a doctor or counselor; most people with depression are able to feel better with treatment.

Teen Depression Warning Signs Sources:

  1. Kidhealth.org from the Nemours Foundation, “Understanding Depression” [online]
  2. Norfolk District Attorney’s Office, “Depression” [online]
  3. Center for Mental Health Services, SAMHSA, A Family Guide, Keeping Youth Mentally Healthy and Drug Free, “Depression Hurts” [online]
  4. U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, “Depression signs in Teenagers” [online]
  5. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, “Depression and Suicide in children and adolescents” [online]
  6. WebMD.com, “Depression in Childhood and Adolescence” [online]