Kids Get Depressed, Too: 8 Signs of Depression in Teens

Sad teenAs parents, the one thing we want to do is protect our children. We baby-proof our houses, snap our kids in car seats, and give them helmets to wear while riding their bikes. As they age, though, we find that protecting them from everything becomes impossible. No matter the level of care we show our children, parents generally cannot protect against mental health issues such as depression.

Depression affects about 11% of adolescents by age 18, according to the National Comorbidity Survey-Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). The symptoms of depression are sometimes obvious, sometimes not. If you suspect that your child is depressed, schedule an evaluation with a mental health professional. With the help of talk therapy and perhaps other treatments, depression can be managed and teens can flourish.

Depression leaves telltale signs and symptoms along its path. Eight of the most common in teens are:

  1. Change in mood above and beyond normal teenager mood swings: Look for unusual irritability and sadness or crying that becomes concerning.
  2. Drop in grades: Do not ignore academic problems! It can be a leading signal that something is wrong.
  3. Changes in friendships: Are you noticing less frequent talk about friends? Less time spent with friends? Spending time with new friends?
  4. Withdrawal and isolation: Is your teen hibernating in his or her room more than normal? This can be a sign that he or she isn’t coping well in the outside world.
  5. Loss of interest in activities: If your teen normally spends every day playing tennis or basketball, but now couldn’t care less about those pursuits, this may be a sign.
  6. Lack of motivation: Teens are not always known for having high motivation, but any changes for the worse should be noted.
  7. Absences and tardiness: Depression doesn’t want teens to go to school, nor to get there on time. It simply doesn’t care.
  8. Family history of depression: Does someone else in your family have depression? Do you?

If you have noticed any of these signs, it may be time to talk to a mental health practitioner or school counselor. As much as we may want to parent it away, depression needs strategic attention and a plan for management.

For teens, management often includes talk therapy with a licensed professional. Often, just the idea of getting help and making an appointment create enough hope that a teen will feel somewhat better quickly. Over time, and with care, the therapist will assess for depression and suicide ideation and provide coping skills and management strategies for dealing with depressive symptoms.

It is not uncommon for parents to wonder about medication for depression. Medication is a private, family decision which should be made with the help of a medical doctor, preferably a psychiatrist who specializes in pediatrics. However, medication is only one part of the puzzle and is not right for every person. That decision should be made on an individual basis and with the help of professionals.

Other tools and management strategies may be helpful in treating depression in teens. In my own work with depressed teens, I often use a strategy of “untangling” problems. This strategy helps us determine what is going well in the teen’s life, what is not going well, and where the weak spots are. After we’ve untangled, we begin to work on tools and skills to handle depressive feelings and dark thoughts. No matter what, the first tool is always exercise. Aside from the physical health benefits, exercise floods the brain with endorphins and feel-good chemicals.

Then we collaborate on behaviors that make the teen feel better. This is an individual preference, but is necessary because teens feel empowered by being part of the process. Once we have a few known “feel-better behaviors,” we start incorporating more and more techniques to manage depressive symptoms.

Often, teens love the creative part of finding what works for them. Does the teen like to bake cupcakes or draw? Does the teen like to watch funny YouTube videos? Enlisting the teen’s preferences gives the teen a sense of control and empowerment over his or her mind.

The process of finding depression coping techniques takes time and effort, but with help, depression can be managed. Teen depression should be taken seriously and cautiously. If your teen has symptoms you believe look like depression, contact a professional for help.


Depression in Children and Adolescents Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Angela Avery, MA, LLPC, NCC, Obsessions and Compulsions / OCD Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • billy

    March 2nd, 2015 at 10:20 AM

    It has to be super hard to detect because honestly all of those things listed above just sort of seem like normal teenage behavior if you ask me.

  • Cindy

    March 13th, 2015 at 2:42 PM

    I dont believe that it is “super hard to detect” signs of depression. I believe the key is to be vigilent and ask “what is wrong” and “how do you feel about it”. The answers to these questions will help the child/adolescent sort out there feelings and priorities in life.

  • Everly

    March 3rd, 2015 at 10:23 AM

    Sure all kids can become sort of mopey when they reach a certain age, but I think that if you really pay attention to your child you will be able to recognize the difference between every day teen angst add full blown depression. I hope that most parents realize that when it is something as serious as this, it is not butting in when you are concerned. That is sort of what we do as parents.

  • Terrence

    March 4th, 2015 at 3:33 AM

    Should we be on the lookout for one or two of these things or when we start to see evidence of all of them?

  • missie

    March 4th, 2015 at 3:00 PM

    @ Terrence- it doesn’t hurt to be on the lookout for any of them. I think that if I saw any of these things happening in a once vibrant and outgoing child, then I would automatically think that there was definitely something going on that I needed to pay attention to. I do think that it can become easy to ignore these things and think that it is all about the hormones pr whatever, but you are dealing with a very tricky age and a very delicate set of feelings when it comes to teenagers. I just don’t think that any parent should take a chance like that.

  • Alison

    March 5th, 2015 at 12:06 PM

    If your student has always been an A student and now you see that the grades have dropped without any explanation then that is a sure sign that there is something that is wrong.
    Kids don’t just go from caring about things like this to not without there being an issue that needs to be addressed

  • fritz

    March 9th, 2015 at 7:24 AM

    If you notice any of these changes in your child the time to get help is now, don’t wait until they do something that could be a danger to them.

  • Tania

    April 12th, 2015 at 10:26 PM

    I understand my son needs help, my son don’t want to be depressed…..but he don’t believe anyone,or any psychologist can help, so does his father…. My son is going down the road….but refuses to go with me to sick help so much needed…..he is 17 years old… can I do this, please help and please don’t say just come down to my office…. Desperate mom

  • Angela Avery, MA, LLPC, NCC

    April 13th, 2015 at 9:22 AM

    Tania: You can try and reach out to his school counselors, coaches, teachers – anyone he will listen to. Also, have him read and understand more about teen depression, just like you did. He sounds very resistant to getting help, which is the depression talking. Is he suicidal? If he is suicidal and wants to die by suicide, then you need to seek immediate help by taking him to the hospital, the nearest mental health crisis center or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) in the U.S.

  • MindRelease

    June 6th, 2015 at 7:07 AM

    Many thanks for sharing your knowledge with us, I have founded great information about children depression on your blog.

  • Michelle

    July 11th, 2015 at 7:34 AM

    Our family lost my brother to suicide!!! It was such a sudden thing and changed our whole family forever! My now 13 year old son was very close to him and is taking the death of my brother his uncle extremely difficult! I seeked out help from the school, and to my shock they were no help! They turned there backs on him and decided to contact the department of family and children! I was mortified! They didn’t understand why the school contacted them and turned there backs on us?!? I’ve done nothing but protect my children and always look out for there best interest. So now that summer break is here, I’ve noticed my son isn’t with his friends as often as he used to be, he’s been isolated in his bedroom and at one time he was in there 3 days straight! I’m always on top of him making sure he’s ok, asking questions about his feelings and pleading with him to please let me know if there’s something wrong or bothering him?!? I’m beyond nervous and barley can sleep because I’m constantly going in his room all hours of the night and day checking on him, I’m so afraid he will do something! I’ve got him in counseling and voice my concerns to his therapist! NEVER would I think our family would deal with suicide! My brother was so down to earth loved working and loved life..he just did something that was a cry for help gone wrong, his girlfriend broke it off with him and thought she would of come and saved him…well she obviously didn’t!!! So now that suicide has taken a huge chunk of our family and made us be on this journey this awful path…I don’t need my son to feel that’s an easy way to go out! What else can I do to protect him from feeling so down? What can I do so I’m not so on edge worrying? As a parent I know we’ll always worry about our kids but after finding my brother GONE I’m a worry wart! I want my son to be back to himself even though a piece of him is gone when my brother passed! I’ve never gone public like this for help but I’m seeking ALL the Information I possibly can get!?! Like I said I got him in counseling, I sought out help from the school and they turned there backs! His primary care Dr is aware of the situation…please help me!!

  • Sreeja N.

    July 3rd, 2016 at 8:41 PM

    Talk to his close friends and seek their help to reach out to him or any siblings or cousins. Any favourite activity or sport – encourage him to spend more time on it. Praying for your family at this difficult time….

  • Angela Avery, MA, LLPC, NCC

    July 12th, 2015 at 2:16 PM

    Michelle, you’re right, this is very serious. I am concerned why the school would call DFC at this time. Seems strange. If you feel it is not just grief, but something more, please seek help from a psychiatrist or grief specialists. Your son may need additional resources at this time to cope with the loss. Depression because of grief would seem appropriate but if you’re this concerned, I’d seek out more help.

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