It's no surprise to parents of teens that kids get moody during adolescence. But what you may not know is that the rate of major depression among teens is soaring. As many as one in five kids are suffering from this undertreated mental illness. The result? Other statistics that are hard to face: Suicide rates have doubled in girls – reaching a record high – and increased by 30 percent in adolescent boys.
Because the teenage years are known for being intense emotionally, it can be difficult for parents to spot when behaviors fall outside the norm. That's just one reason why only half of teenagers with major depression receive a diagnosis before reaching adulthood.
What Are the Signs of Depression in Teens?
Everyone has periods of feeling low. Maybe your child didn’t do well on a test, didn't make the cut for a team or lost a best friend. Feeling sad is a natural response to such negative events. But over time, the sadness fades and we move on.
Life events can trigger depression, too, but it can also develop for no apparent reason. Unlike ordinary sadness, depression lingers for weeks or months and zaps your child of joy. Signs of depression in teens include:
- Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or oversleeping
- Less socializing with friends and parents
- Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
- Feeling and acting tired all the time (i.e. slow moving and speaking)
- Academic issues like skipping school and poor performance
- Eating significantly more or less
- Being excessively irritable and angry
- Overly sensitive reactions to criticism
- Frequent bouts of crying
- Complaints about headaches, stomachaches or other ailments
- Trouble focusing
- Thinking about dying
- Getting into fights or engaging in violent behavior
- Alcohol or drug use
Who Is Most at Risk for Teen Depression?
Although any teen is susceptible to depression, the following factors increase the likelihood of developing this mental illness:
- Gender: Girls are twice as likely as boys to suffer from major depression
- Being a victim of bullying or cyberbullying
- Spending more time on social media (studies suggest the more time teenagers spend on social media, the more likely they are to be depressed)
- Having a close relative who has struggled with depression
- Having a physical disability or a learning disability
- Experiencing problems with peer acceptance
- Going through a traumatic event or suffering a major loss
How Can You Help Your Child?
Depression can not only lead to poor academic performance and substance abuse, but without treatment depression can become dangerous resulting in self-harm, violence and suicide. Treatment may involve talking with a therapist, making healthy lifestyle changes, taking medications or some combination of these.
As a parent, you're in the best position to notice changes in your child. If your teen shows signs of depression nearly every day for at least two weeks, get professional help. Visit your child's pediatrician to discuss your concerns or make an appointment to talk with our behavioral health specialists.
For 24-hour help, reach out to a helpline, such as (800) 273-TALK (8255), free 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Or call 911 if you are in a crisis or want to hurt yourself.
Help others recognize the signs of teen depression, too, by sharing this information on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.
Mood Disorders in Teens
Knowing When to Seek Treatment for Your Child
Helping Someone with a Mental Illness