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Teen Depression: What Do Parents Need to Know?

Depression in teens is serious, and it can be hard for parents to know what to do. Learn the signs of teen depression and what you can do to help.

Depression in teens is scary and confusing for parents. Adolescence is a time of change that sometimes brings fluctuating moods, including low moods. If your teen begins to act down and withdrawn, you might be concerned about depression but also wonder if this is part of this age. Keep reading to learn how to tell the difference between teen depression and developmental angst and how to help your child who might not act they want your help.

Many teenagers won’t (or can’t) directly tell you that they are struggling with depression, but there are signs you can watch for that will alert you to their need for support.

Teen Depression: Signs Parents Can Watch For

Teasing out adolescent moodiness from teen depression is tricky but possible. Teens can and do ride an emotional rollercoaster, and it’s a normal part of their development to try out new behaviors, shift friend groups, and pull away from parents. This doesn’t mean your teen has depression, nor do occasional bouts of angst.

To help determine if depression is at work in your teen, watch for patterns of behavior. Do you see many of the below signs, or just one or two? Are they frequent or fleeting? Are the signs they exhibit limited to one or two situations (such as being angry and impatient with siblings) or do you see them across many situations (like being noticeably irritable with many people and in many circumstances)? Noticing where, when, and how often you see these signs will help you determine if your teen may be depressed:

  • Irritability, anger, or agitation (these may be the most obvious sign of depression in teens)
  • Prolonged sadness and, possibly, frequent crying
  • Hopelessness
  • Withdrawing and isolating (some teens maintain connection with a small group of friends, and this group might be a new friendship circle for them)
  • Decline in school performance
  • Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy, and even quitting their activities altogether
  • Lack of motivation
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Rebellion, recklessness, and unhealthy behaviors, including substance use
  • Running away
  • Low self-esteem (a sense of shame, of being “worthless” or a failure, appearance and body image issues)
  • Extreme sensitivity to anything they perceive as criticism

Depression in teens, as in other groups, carries the risk of suicide. Watch for signs of suicidal thoughts, such as:

  • Romanticizing death, talking about it frequently and positively
  • Writing stories, poems, or lyrics about death
  • Making offhand remarks about being better off dead or others being better off without them
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Seeking out means to take their own life

If your teenager shows any of these suicide warning signs or otherwise leads you to believe that they are contemplating suicide, take them to a hospital right away. They might become very angry, but they will be alive to work through it with you.

Knowing the signs of teen depression to watch for is an important first step. When you notice these signs, here are some things you can do.

Tips for Parents to Help Teens with Depression

Recall that one of the signs of depression in adolescents, also a sign that your child is a teenager, is sensitivity to criticism. Depression can make a teenager interpret any little comment, look, or gesture as reproach, so approach them with caring, concern, and openness. As much as you want to help make things better, if they think you want to “fix” them, they may isolate further and shun offers of help.

To reach a teenager who may be depressed:

  • Approach them neutrally and invite them to share what’s happening in their life (avoid asking lots of questions, as this drives teens in general away)
  • Listen as they talk—avoid the temptation to jump in with advice and suggestions
  • Let any irritation or other negative attitudes float past you, knowing that they’re not personal
  • Validate their emotions and thoughts, but you don’t have to condone any reckless and dangerous behavior
  • Gently and positively suggest professional help/therapy
  • Ask them to take a depression test for teens and share the results with you as a way to facilitate discussion

A very powerful way to help is to simply be there for them. Spend dedicated, distraction-free time with them every day, even if it’s just watching a TV show together in silence. Offer them a trip to a coffee shop (or similar), but don’t force. They probably won’t take you up on it right away, but trust that they know and appreciate your sincerity.

Depression in teens is hard for everyone, especially them. They desire independence, but they’re still kids and don’t quite know how to help themselves. When you remember this and be present with your teen as a teenager rather than a little kid, you will help them beat depression.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2020, May 4). Teen Depression: What Do Parents Need to Know?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, July 14 from https://www.healthyplace.com/depression/children/teen-depression-what-do-parents-need-to-know

Last Updated: May 18, 2020

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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