Today, parents’ concerns are even more warranted than in years past. Prior to the Covid pandemic, teen depression rates were already on the rise, with studies showing that 13 percent of all adolescents experienced depression.
During the pandemic, however, teenage depression rates increased to almost twenty-five percent, and post-pandemic teenage depression rates appear to be continuing to rise. Alarmingly, while teens aged 12-17 have the highest rate of major depressive episodes of any age group, they also have the lowest treatment rate of all age groups.
For this reason, it is even more imperative that we learn to identify the signs and understand the risk factors and causes of depression in our teens, so we can get them the help they need.
Signs of depression in teens.
For parents, it may be comforting to know that moodiness and irritability can be perfectly normal teenage emotional states. The highs and lows of adolescence typically begin to level out as they approach their later teen years. But how can parents tell the difference between typical adolescent angst or moodiness and a more serious concern, like teenage depression?
Symptoms of depression in teens can vary greatly, and depression can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Some of the most common signs of depression in teens include:
Persistent sadness, irritability, or feelings of hopelessness. Teens who are depressed often experience sadness or irritability that can last for weeks or months. They may feel less able to control their emotions, feeling hopeless, crying, or exploding in anger without an obvious cause.
Loss of motivation or interest in activities. Teens who are depressed may lose interest in past times that they used to enjoy like hobbies, playing sports, or hanging out with friends. They may also withdraw from social interactions or isolate themselves.
Changes in appetite or sleep patterns. Depressed teens might sleep more than usual or have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking early before they’ve had a full night’s sleep. They may also experience a loss of appetite or begin to overeat uncharacteristically. Weight changes may be noticeable, as well.
Difficulty concentrating or uncharacteristically poor grades. Depressed teens may have trouble concentrating or completing tasks, like schoolwork, chores at home, or even activities that they enjoyed in the past. They may also become indecisive, having increased difficulty making even the simplest decisions.
Physical symptoms. Depression can also cause physical symptoms, like fatigue, headaches, stomachaches, and other digestive issues, or even body aches and pains.
Thoughts of suicide or self-harm. In severe cases, depressed teens may have thoughts of self-harm or suicide. They may talk about wanting to die, be dead, or exhibit self-destructive or high-risk behaviors. If your teen exhibits thoughts of either suicide or self-harm, call 988 immediately to connect with a trained counselor.
If you notice any of the above signs of depression in your teenager, it’s important to reach out to a mental health professional for help. More on seeking help and treatments for teen depression will be discussed later in this article.
Risk factors and causes of teen depression.
Teen depression is usually the result of a combination of factors, rather than having one singular cause. Some of the most common causes of depression in teenagers include:
Stressful life events. Teenagers who experience significant stress, such as moving to a new home or school, increased academic pressure, financial difficulties, or relationship problems with peers or family members may all be more prone to depression.
Trauma. Traumatic life events, such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, abuse, bullying, being involved in or even observing a life-threatening situation.
Environmental Factors. Factors such as poverty, a difficult home life, natural disasters, exposure to violence, environmental pollutants, and world events can all contribute to depression.
Social isolation. Teens who feel socially isolated or disconnected from their peers may be more vulnerable to depression. Although the school closures and community shutdowns that occurred during the pandemic have ended, the social isolation that children and teenagers experienced during that period have, in many cases, continued, even if to a lesser degree, as feelings of social isolation.
Social media and video games. The increase in social media and video gaming have also contributed to isolation. Increased use and habitual checking of social media have been associated with higher rates of both anxiety and depression in teens.
Social media engagement often creates unrealistic expectations in teens, who may strive for perfectionism and unattainable or unsustainable levels of achievement, and develop distorted ideas reality, including body image and the world in general.
Genetics. Depression has been found to run in families, and teens with a family history of depression or substance abuse may be more likely to develop depression.
Neurodiversity. Neurodiverse teens, those with ADHD and autism, for example, have significantly higher rates of depression.
Gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Teenage girls, as well as teens in the LGBTQ+ community are all at higher risk of developing depression.
Substance abuse. Substance abuse can contribute to depression in teenagers. In addition, depressed teens may be more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism.
Getting help for your teenager.
If you’re concerned that your teen may be experiencing depression, get professional help. A qualified mental health professional can recommend and provide appropriate treatment options. There are several steps you can take to ensure that your teen gets the help they need.
Listen to your teen. Too often, we as parents think the first step is talking to our teens, when in fact, we should be listening more than talking. Listen to learn. Listen to what they are experiencing. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings. Be open and humble. Validate their feelings and their experience. Let them know that you love them and want to help. Let them know they have your support.
Seek professional help. Depression is a medical condition that requires treatment. A mental health counselor and qualified medical professional can provide the necessary support and resources they need. Encourage your teen to be open and honest with their counselor and doctor.
Create safe environments. Ensure that your teen feels safe, loved, and supported at home. Talk to them about ideas to help them reduce stress, both at home and at school. It might be necessary to advocate for your teen at school if there are situations there that are causing unnecessary pressures.
Encourage and support healthy habits. A healthy diet, regular exercise, time outdoors, and getting plenty of sleep will all help to improve your teen’s mood and reduce their symptoms of depression.
Treatment options for teen depression.
Because every teen is unique, as are their symptoms and situation, there is no “one size fits all” treatment for teen depression. There are, however, a number of treatment options that are effective, and a mental health professional can help determine the most appropriate treatment options for your teenager. The most common options are below:
Counseling. Counselors provide a safe space for teens to share their experiences and feelings. They help teens learn strategies and develop skills to manage their depressive symptoms, as well as identify the possible underlying causes of their depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and interpersonal therapy (IPT) are the most evidence-based therapies for teen depression.
Medication. Some teens may benefit from antidepressant medication. These can only be prescribed by a qualified medical professional, such as a pediatric psychiatrist or pediatric psychiatric nurse practitioner, who will monitor medication management closely. They should also explain to you the potential benefits and side effects of antidepressants for teens.
Family therapy. In some situations, family therapy may be helpful in combination with individual therapy to improve family relationships and communication.
Group therapy. During group therapy counselors can observe your teen’s social interactions firsthand, providing additional insight not possible in individual therapy. Your teen will be in a safe environment in which they will interact and connect with teens experiencing similar challenges, reducing feelings of isolation and providing them with interpersonal skills and tools to use in everyday interactions.
Lifestyle changes. As discussed above, encourage your teen to develop healthy habits. A balanced diet, regular exercise, time outdoors, adequate sleep, and even mindfulness or meditation can help your teen by improving their mood and decreasing their depressive symptoms.
Making your decision.
The providers at our office offer a variety of services to meet your teen where they’re at and guide them on their journey to improved mental health and stronger relationships. Reach out today and we can help answer your questions and determine the best options for your teenager.
We’re here to help your teen, both in person and online.
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