Teen Depression

Teen depression, also referred to as adolescent depression, is simply the condition of depression as experienced by a teenager. Keep reading to learn the symptoms of depressed teens, risk factors for teen depression, and tips on preventing and treating teen depression.

It is important to note that teen depression may, in fact, look somewhat different than depression in an adult, so understanding how it manifests at this particular age can be key for obtaining prompt medical treatment, when treatment is necessary. This article provides an introduction to teen depression.

Teen Depression: Does It Need Treatment?

In the lead paragraph, I referred to the possibility that depression may or may not need treatment. This may be surprising to some people: how could teen depression not need treatment?

The fact is that the term depression is used for two quite different human situations. On the one hand, it is used to refer to the perfectly normal, non-pathological human reaction to the normal, but fairly stressful events of life and teen issues. It is normal, and expected, that having faced a loss of prestige, a failure, a betrayal, an instance of bad judgment, the end of a romantic relationship, or the like, that a teen will be temporarily withdrawn and sad. Perhaps s/he may experience a temporary loss of appetite or some difficulty sleeping. But in this type of normal teen depression, within a couple of weeks, these behaviors will have passed on their own, as the teen incorporates the occurrence and moves on. This depressed range of behaviors is counterpart to the range of exuberant and elated behaviors that accompany joyful events: as long as they come and go and are appropriately reactive to life circumstances, they are just a normal part of life.

The other use made of the term depression is to refer to mood disorders, three types of which are most commonly found in teens:

  • Major Depressive Disorder (also known as clinical depression or unipolar depression). This is a type of teen depression that can be severe, but occurs in episodes.
  • Bipolar Depression (also known as manic depression). This is a type of episodic teen depression that is interspersed with periods of normal moods and also periods of manic or hypomanic moods, in which a person exhibits behavior that is pretty much the opposite of depression: elation, self-assurance, risk-taking.
  • Dysthymic Disorder (also known as minor depression, mild depression, or chronic depression) This is a type of teen depression that is less severe than major depressive disorder, but can last as long as two years or more.

Unique Symptoms of Teen Depression

Teens who are depressed share some symptoms with adults, such as withdrawal, sadness, changes in eating and sleeping habits, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating, and in certain cases, thoughts of suicide or death. Multiple symptoms lasting over a period of more than two weeks are necessary for a diagnosis of teen depression. And any of them could be due to more than one cause. But they give you an idea of what to keep an eye out for.

Other symptoms that a teen may exhibit are not necessarily symptoms of depression in adults. These include:

  • feeling bored
  • complaining of general pain (possibly headaches or stomachaches) or tiredness
  • exhibiting particular sensitivity
  • acting reckless
  • having trouble with communication and relationships
  • becoming socially isolated
  • planning to, attempting to, or discussing running away
  • a change for the worse in school performance of attendance
  • engaging in teen alcohol abuse or substance abuse, which may - for teens - be a response to teen depression rather than arising out of some other motive

Risk Factors for Teen Depression

Teens are more likely to become depressed if they have had certain kinds of difficulty during their childhood. This could include an experience of physical or sexual abuse, a chronic illness, the loss of a parent, or an unstable caregiver. Other risk factors include a family history of depression, a lack of social skills, having an eating disorder, or having low self-esteem.

Treatment of Teen Depression

Teenage depression is often treated with a combination of therapy and medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy may often be used, but is not the only choice available. Other approaches include family therapy and other types of individual therapy. Careful watch must be kept when teens take any antidepressant medication because research has suggested that there are links between antidepressants and suicidal thoughts in children and adolescents. A mental health provider will be able to share the most recent findings.

Sleep and Preventing Teen Depression

In January, 2010, researchers reported that teens who went to bed earlier were markedly less likely to suffer from teen depression or experience suicidal thoughts. Furthermore, teens who generally slept five hours per night or less were 71 percent more likely to identify themselves as being depressed and 48 percent more likely to say that they had experienced thoughts of suicide than were teens who slept 8 hours a night. If this research holds up, it suggests one straightforward way to help protect teens from teen depression.


Depression in Children and Adolescents: A Fact Sheet for Physicians - Written by National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH),

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