Does Your Teen Have Depression?

Reviewed Apr 6, 2017

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Summary

  • Teens can have depression, and adults can learn how to find out and what to do.
  • Some medical conditions may mimic clinical depression in teens.

How do I know?

It can be hard to realize that teens can get depression. Most of us would think, “What does a teen have to be that unhappy about?” But, depression can have many causes. Many people are simply born with it, no matter what happens in their lives. 

Every person, no matter what age, will have feelings of sadness that lasts. This is normal and common. But, to know whether your teen is just having a bad day or is in need of help, you should look for actions or behaviors that you may not think of as depression.
 
Sometimes behaviors that are upsetting to you—like angry outbursts, agitation, or crankiness—can be signs of depression. Or you may see blaming others, complaining of feeling treated unfairly, or overreacting to minor frustrations, too.

For some teens, it is easier to know when he has a loss of interest in activities that he used to enjoy. Or maybe she no longer wants to be with friends and family like she used to. All may be signs of depression. Teenage girls are two to three times more likely to have it as boys are.

Some problems may show up within important activities in her life. This can include poor grades at school, not getting along with other people, or not taking care of chores and other duties at home. The problems you see must happen often, such as for most of every day, and last for at least two weeks to be considered clinical depression.
 
While the basic signs do not differ between children and teens, teens tend to complain more about how they feel. They also may like to be by themselves and are more likely to be crabby or grouchy. Teens are also more likely to be sluggish and tired, to sleep more, and may misunderstand what is going on around them.

Other behaviors to look for in your teen include:

  • Sleep problems like sleeping too much, along with problems going to sleep and staying asleep throughout the night, or having nightmares
  • Inability to sit still or be still
  • Slowed thinking, speech, or even not talking
  • Poor attention or memory
  • A negative self-image, feeling unworthy of being loved or not valued by others
  • Feeling guilty for past incidents, or inappropriately or excessively self-blaming
  • Frequent crying spells
  • Brooding and irritability
  • Becoming overly focused on an upsetting thought
  • Anxiety or marked fearfulness
  • Complaints of physical discomfort such as stomachaches, headaches, and other vague aches and pains
  • Panic/anxiety attacks
  • School or academic problems such as truancy or failing grades
  • Drug or alcohol use

What else could it be?

Some medical syndromes and disorders may mimic clinical depression in teens. For example, those with multiple sclerosis or hypothyroidism may show symptoms of it. Teens also may have symptoms that are common in not only depressive disorders, but also disruptive behavior disorders, bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, and attention-deficit disorders, which may be the actual primary problem.

In other instances, using steroids, alcohol, illicit drugs such as cocaine, or exposure to a toxic substance may cause depressive symptoms. For instance, withdrawal from drugs such as cocaine or heroin may cause symptoms that look like those seen in depression.

By Chris E. Stout, PsyD, Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago
Source: Beardslee WR, Gladstone TR. Prevention of childhood depression: recent findings and future prospects. Biol Psychiatry. 2001;49:1101-1110; Bonin L. Depression in adolescents: epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis, www.uptodate.com/contents/depression-in-adolescents-epidemiology-clinical-manifestations-and-diagnosis; Carlson GA. The challenge of diagnosing depression in childhood and adolescence. J Affect Disord. December 2000;61(suppl 1):3-8; Castiglia PT. Depression in children. J Pediatr Health Care. March-April 2000;14:73-75; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). American Psychiatric Association, 1999; National Institute of Mental Health, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1MDD_CHILD.shtml; Synopsis of Psychiatry by Benjamin J. Sadock, Virginia A. Sadock and Pedro Ruiz, M.D. LWW, 11th edition; 2014.
Reviewed by Steven T. Batton, DO, Medical Director, ValueOptions Federal Division

Summary

  • Teens can have depression, and adults can learn how to find out and what to do.
  • Some medical conditions may mimic clinical depression in teens.

How do I know?

It can be hard to realize that teens can get depression. Most of us would think, “What does a teen have to be that unhappy about?” But, depression can have many causes. Many people are simply born with it, no matter what happens in their lives. 

Every person, no matter what age, will have feelings of sadness that lasts. This is normal and common. But, to know whether your teen is just having a bad day or is in need of help, you should look for actions or behaviors that you may not think of as depression.
 
Sometimes behaviors that are upsetting to you—like angry outbursts, agitation, or crankiness—can be signs of depression. Or you may see blaming others, complaining of feeling treated unfairly, or overreacting to minor frustrations, too.

For some teens, it is easier to know when he has a loss of interest in activities that he used to enjoy. Or maybe she no longer wants to be with friends and family like she used to. All may be signs of depression. Teenage girls are two to three times more likely to have it as boys are.

Some problems may show up within important activities in her life. This can include poor grades at school, not getting along with other people, or not taking care of chores and other duties at home. The problems you see must happen often, such as for most of every day, and last for at least two weeks to be considered clinical depression.
 
While the basic signs do not differ between children and teens, teens tend to complain more about how they feel. They also may like to be by themselves and are more likely to be crabby or grouchy. Teens are also more likely to be sluggish and tired, to sleep more, and may misunderstand what is going on around them.

Other behaviors to look for in your teen include:

  • Sleep problems like sleeping too much, along with problems going to sleep and staying asleep throughout the night, or having nightmares
  • Inability to sit still or be still
  • Slowed thinking, speech, or even not talking
  • Poor attention or memory
  • A negative self-image, feeling unworthy of being loved or not valued by others
  • Feeling guilty for past incidents, or inappropriately or excessively self-blaming
  • Frequent crying spells
  • Brooding and irritability
  • Becoming overly focused on an upsetting thought
  • Anxiety or marked fearfulness
  • Complaints of physical discomfort such as stomachaches, headaches, and other vague aches and pains
  • Panic/anxiety attacks
  • School or academic problems such as truancy or failing grades
  • Drug or alcohol use

What else could it be?

Some medical syndromes and disorders may mimic clinical depression in teens. For example, those with multiple sclerosis or hypothyroidism may show symptoms of it. Teens also may have symptoms that are common in not only depressive disorders, but also disruptive behavior disorders, bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, and attention-deficit disorders, which may be the actual primary problem.

In other instances, using steroids, alcohol, illicit drugs such as cocaine, or exposure to a toxic substance may cause depressive symptoms. For instance, withdrawal from drugs such as cocaine or heroin may cause symptoms that look like those seen in depression.

By Chris E. Stout, PsyD, Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago
Source: Beardslee WR, Gladstone TR. Prevention of childhood depression: recent findings and future prospects. Biol Psychiatry. 2001;49:1101-1110; Bonin L. Depression in adolescents: epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis, www.uptodate.com/contents/depression-in-adolescents-epidemiology-clinical-manifestations-and-diagnosis; Carlson GA. The challenge of diagnosing depression in childhood and adolescence. J Affect Disord. December 2000;61(suppl 1):3-8; Castiglia PT. Depression in children. J Pediatr Health Care. March-April 2000;14:73-75; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). American Psychiatric Association, 1999; National Institute of Mental Health, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1MDD_CHILD.shtml; Synopsis of Psychiatry by Benjamin J. Sadock, Virginia A. Sadock and Pedro Ruiz, M.D. LWW, 11th edition; 2014.
Reviewed by Steven T. Batton, DO, Medical Director, ValueOptions Federal Division

Summary

  • Teens can have depression, and adults can learn how to find out and what to do.
  • Some medical conditions may mimic clinical depression in teens.

How do I know?

It can be hard to realize that teens can get depression. Most of us would think, “What does a teen have to be that unhappy about?” But, depression can have many causes. Many people are simply born with it, no matter what happens in their lives. 

Every person, no matter what age, will have feelings of sadness that lasts. This is normal and common. But, to know whether your teen is just having a bad day or is in need of help, you should look for actions or behaviors that you may not think of as depression.
 
Sometimes behaviors that are upsetting to you—like angry outbursts, agitation, or crankiness—can be signs of depression. Or you may see blaming others, complaining of feeling treated unfairly, or overreacting to minor frustrations, too.

For some teens, it is easier to know when he has a loss of interest in activities that he used to enjoy. Or maybe she no longer wants to be with friends and family like she used to. All may be signs of depression. Teenage girls are two to three times more likely to have it as boys are.

Some problems may show up within important activities in her life. This can include poor grades at school, not getting along with other people, or not taking care of chores and other duties at home. The problems you see must happen often, such as for most of every day, and last for at least two weeks to be considered clinical depression.
 
While the basic signs do not differ between children and teens, teens tend to complain more about how they feel. They also may like to be by themselves and are more likely to be crabby or grouchy. Teens are also more likely to be sluggish and tired, to sleep more, and may misunderstand what is going on around them.

Other behaviors to look for in your teen include:

  • Sleep problems like sleeping too much, along with problems going to sleep and staying asleep throughout the night, or having nightmares
  • Inability to sit still or be still
  • Slowed thinking, speech, or even not talking
  • Poor attention or memory
  • A negative self-image, feeling unworthy of being loved or not valued by others
  • Feeling guilty for past incidents, or inappropriately or excessively self-blaming
  • Frequent crying spells
  • Brooding and irritability
  • Becoming overly focused on an upsetting thought
  • Anxiety or marked fearfulness
  • Complaints of physical discomfort such as stomachaches, headaches, and other vague aches and pains
  • Panic/anxiety attacks
  • School or academic problems such as truancy or failing grades
  • Drug or alcohol use

What else could it be?

Some medical syndromes and disorders may mimic clinical depression in teens. For example, those with multiple sclerosis or hypothyroidism may show symptoms of it. Teens also may have symptoms that are common in not only depressive disorders, but also disruptive behavior disorders, bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, and attention-deficit disorders, which may be the actual primary problem.

In other instances, using steroids, alcohol, illicit drugs such as cocaine, or exposure to a toxic substance may cause depressive symptoms. For instance, withdrawal from drugs such as cocaine or heroin may cause symptoms that look like those seen in depression.

By Chris E. Stout, PsyD, Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago
Source: Beardslee WR, Gladstone TR. Prevention of childhood depression: recent findings and future prospects. Biol Psychiatry. 2001;49:1101-1110; Bonin L. Depression in adolescents: epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis, www.uptodate.com/contents/depression-in-adolescents-epidemiology-clinical-manifestations-and-diagnosis; Carlson GA. The challenge of diagnosing depression in childhood and adolescence. J Affect Disord. December 2000;61(suppl 1):3-8; Castiglia PT. Depression in children. J Pediatr Health Care. March-April 2000;14:73-75; Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth Edition Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). American Psychiatric Association, 1999; National Institute of Mental Health, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1MDD_CHILD.shtml; Synopsis of Psychiatry by Benjamin J. Sadock, Virginia A. Sadock and Pedro Ruiz, M.D. LWW, 11th edition; 2014.
Reviewed by Steven T. Batton, DO, Medical Director, ValueOptions Federal Division

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