Adolescence is a difficult time in life, from changes in your body to questions about your identity to navigating relationships with your peers. With the amount of uncertainty and turmoil that teenagers face, it is sometimes difficult to discern whether moodiness is the result of normal growth during this time in life or something more serious. Depression affects about 20 percent of teenagers in the U.S., so it is important to be able to differentiate between normal teenage behavior and depressive symptoms. Depression is a treatable condition, and if your teen is suffering from it, there are ways you can help them. In this blog, we will go over how to tell if your teen is depressed or not, as well as how you can help.

Signs of Depression in Teens

It is normal for teens to have bad moods and act out occasionally. However, depression is different. Depression causes overwhelming feelings of despair, sadness, and anger in teens and has a profound impact on their daily functioning. Some behaviors can be indicative of depression, including:

  • Difficulty in school. Depressed teens often have a hard time concentrating. This may lead to poor grades, low attendance, or frustration with schoolwork.
  • Running away from home. It is common for teenagers with depression to either talk about running away from home or attempt to do so. This is often a cry for help that expresses their desire for change.
  • Alcohol and drug use. Like many adults do, teens may also turn to drugs or alcohol in order to numb the pain of depression. Unfortunately, substance abuse only further aggravates their symptoms.
  • Low self-esteem. Depression often causes teens to feel more ashamed, ugly, and unworthy of love.
  • Smartphone addiction. The desire to escape from the world may cause your teen to become hooked on their smartphone and the internet, which only serves to further isolate them.
  • Reckless behavior. Some teens respond to depression by engaging in risk-taking behavior, such as risky sex, reckless driving, or binge drinking.
  • Violence. Depressed teens, especially boys, may become violent or aggressive.

Depressed teens may also display signs of self-injury or restrictive eating. While depression acts as a fog, making life more difficult, there are ways for your teen to combat the symptoms.

Common symptoms of depression in teens include:

  • Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Hostility, anger, frustration, and irritability
  • Frequent tearfulness and crying
  • Socially withdrawing from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities
  • Changes in eating patterns
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Restlessness
  • Poor performance in school
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unexplainable aches and pains
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Depression in Teens v. Adults

Depression can be quite different in teens than in adults. Some symptoms that teenagers experience more than adults are:

  • Anger or irritability. Depressed teens often are angrier than they are sad. You may notice your teen is easily frustrated or angry and frequently grumpy and hostile.
  • Unexplainable aches and pains. When depressed, your teen may complain about headaches or stomachaches frequently. If there is no medical cause of these pains, it may be a sign of depression.
  • Heightened sensitivity to criticism. Teens with depression are combating feelings of worthlessness, which can make them more sensitive to criticism, failure, or rejection.
  • Withdrawing from certain people. Depressed adults are more likely to isolate themselves from everyone. In contrast, teens tend to maintain some friendships, but they may socialize less, withdraw from their family, or start hanging with a new crowd.

Suicide Warning Signs

Teen suicide is a major issue in this country, and depressed teens are at the highest risk, particularly if they abuse alcohol or drugs. It is very important to take any warning signs of suicide very seriously. Some signs you should watch out for are:

  • Jokes about committing suicide
  • Hopeless thinking (“There’s nothing that I can do,” “I’d be better off dead,” and “I wish I could just disappear”)
  • Romanticizing death
  • Writing about suicide
  • Reckless behavior and many accidental injuries
  • Giving away their things
  • Long, tearful goodbyes with friends and family as though it will be the last time
  • Seeking out weapons or pills

If you have reason to suspect your teen is suicidal, it is imperative that you take immediate action. You can contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. If you are concerned that your teen is depressed, we can help. Contact New Transitions Counseling Center for child counseling in Palatine.