What is depression in teens?
Teen depression is a serious medical illness. It's more than just a feeling of being sad or "blue" for a few days. It is an intense feeling of sadness, hopelessness, and anger or frustration that lasts much longer. These feelings make it hard for you to function normally and do your usual activities. You may also have trouble focusing and have no motivation or energy. Depression can make you feel like it is hard to enjoy life or even get through the day.
What causes depression in teens?
Many factors may play a role in depression, including
- Genetics. Depression can run in families.
- Brain biology and chemistry.
- Hormones. Hormone changes can contribute to depression.
- Stressful childhood events such as trauma, the death of a loved one, bullying, and abuse.
Which teens are at risk of depression?
Depression can happen at any age, but often begins in the teens or early adulthood. Certain teens are at higher risk of depression, such as those who
- Have other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, eating disorders, and substance use
- Have other diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease
- Have family members with mental illness
- Have a dysfunctional family/family conflict
- Have problems with friends or other kids at school
- Have learning problems or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Have had trauma in childhood
- Have low self-esteem, a pessimistic outlook, or poor coping skills
- Are members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially when their families are not supportive
What are the symptoms of depression in teens?
If you have depression, you have one or more of these symptoms most of the time:
- Feeling of emptiness
- Being angry, irritable, or frustrated, even at minor things
You also may also have other symptoms, such as
- No longer caring about things you used to enjoy
- Changes in weight - losing weight when you are not dieting or gaining weight from eating too much
- Changes in sleep - having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or sleeping much more than usual
- Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
- Feeling very tired or not having energy
- Feeling worthless or very guilty
- Having trouble concentrating, remembering information, or making decisions
- Thinking about dying or suicide
How is depression in teens diagnosed?
If you think you might be depressed, tell someone that you trust, such as your
- Parents or guardian
- Teacher or counselor
The next step is to see your doctor for a checkup. Your doctor can first make sure that you do not have another health problem that is causing your depression. To do this, you may have a physical exam and lab tests.
If you don't have another health problem, you will get a psychological evaluation. Your doctor may do it, or you may be referred to a mental health professional to get one. You may be asked about things such as
- Your thoughts and feelings
- How you are doing at school
- Any changes in your eating, sleeping, or energy level
- Whether you are suicidal
- Whether you use alcohol or drugs
How is depression in teens treated?
Effective treatments for depression in teens include talk therapy, or a combination of talk therapy and medicines:
Talk therapy, also called psychotherapy or counseling, can help you understand and manage your moods and feelings. It involves going to see a therapist, such as a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a social worker, or counselor. You can talk out your emotions to someone who understands and supports you. You can also learn how to stop thinking negatively and start to look at the positives in life. This will help you build confidence and feel better about yourself.
There are many different types of talk therapy. Certain types have been shown to help teens deal with depression, including
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps you to identify and change negative and unhelpful thoughts. It also helps you build coping skills and change behavioral patterns.
- Interpersonal therapy (IPT), which focuses on improving your relationships. It helps you understand and work through troubled relationships that may contribute to your depression. IPT may help you change behaviors that are causing problems. You also explore major issues that may add to your depression, such as grief or life changes.
In some cases, your doctor will suggest medicines along with talk therapy. There are a few antidepressants that have been widely studied and proven to help teens. If you are taking medicine for depression, it is important to see your doctor regularly.
It is also important to know that it will take some time for you to get relief from antidepressants:
- It can take 3 to 4 weeks until an antidepressant takes effect
- You may have to try more than one antidepressant to find one that works for you
- It can also take some time to find the right dose of an antidepressant
In some cases, teenagers may have an increase in suicidal thoughts or behavior when taking antidepressants. This risk is higher in the first few weeks after starting the medicine and when the dose is changed. Make sure to tell your parents or guardian if you start feeling worse or have thoughts of hurting yourself.
You should not stop taking the antidepressants on your own. You need to work with your doctor to slowly and safely decrease the dose before you stop.
Programs for severe depression
Some teens who have severe depression or are at risk of hurting themselves may need more intensive treatment. They may go into a psychiatric hospital or do a day program. Both offer counseling, group discussions, and activities with mental health professionals and other patients. Day programs may be full-day or half-day, and they often last for several weeks.
Treatments and Therapies
- About Teen Suicide (For Parents) (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
- How Can I Help a Friend Who Cuts? (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
- How Can I Stop Cutting? (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
- Self-Injury in Adolescents (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry) Also in Spanish
- Teen Suicide (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Teen Depression (National Institutes of Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
Find an Expert
- American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
- Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
- KidsHealth (Nemours Foundation)
- National Institute of Mental Health
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Also in Spanish
- Psychologist Locator (American Psychological Association)