Teen depression is an epidemic that plagues teens now more than ever. It is a mood disorder that can cause intense feelings of sadness over prolonged periods of time that may lead to self-harm or, in extreme cases, even suicide. 

Although teen depression is medically no different from depression in adults, the symptoms may be more difficult for adolescents to process due to hormonal changes that take place in their bodies at this age.

Peer pressure, a negative body image, low self-esteem, and social pressures may also result in symptoms that may be difficult for teens to process.

When speaking to a teen exhibiting symptoms of depression, it is important to refrain from being judgemental or harsh. After all, even adults struggle to handle the effects of depression.

The following are ways to not only recognize symptoms of depression in teens but to provide ways to help them before it becomes worse.

Signs of Depression In Teens 

Understanding teen depression and the inherent warning signs and symptoms can be a game changer and in serious cases, the difference between life and death.

Symptoms can present differently in each individual. A few common warning signs include:

Moodiness or irritability
Sadness or acting more reserved than usual
A marked lack of interest in exploring hobbies
A noticeable decrease in energy levels
Changes in appetite
Dwindling school performance
Difficulty focusing on tasks
Unexplained physical ailments
Speaking or talking about suicide

Some of these symptoms can be attributed to changes in hormones and within the adolescent body; nonetheless, these may also serve as important warning flags that a teen is feeling detrimental effects from depression.

Risk Factors 

There are a variety of factors that can increase the onset of depression among teens:

Questioning self-identity, including sexuality or gender
Low self-esteem
The loss of a loved one 
Social anxiety or a feeling they do not belong
Frequent illness
Living in a disruptive or abusive environment 
Experiencing a drastic change in the structure of daily life
A lack of social and mental support 

The risk of depression is exceptionally high in the LGBTQIA+ community and among disenfranchised youth who often lack the social structure and support they need.

Fortunately, depression is treatable once the presence of the disorder is known. It is important to speak with a medical professional before making decisions about treatment options.

It is important for your teen to understand that they are not alone when struggling with depression – it can be a debilitating illness and requires treatment like any other. 

How to Approach a Teen With Depression

When talking to a depressed teen, make sure to use an appropriate tone, one that is non-judgmental and establishes an environment where they feel safe and comfortable. 

Harsh criticism and angry tones can ultimately cause teens to recoil, becoming even more reserved and less likely to communicate in the future. 

Be as attentive as possible and do not trivialize any issues that the teen presents as potential causes for their feelings. Speaking to you about such sensitive topics can be one of the hardest things for a teen to do.  

In a desire to help, you may want to ask as many questions as possible, but this can cause teens to recoil, feeling that you are being invasive. Pave the way by letting your teen know that the option for them to open up to you is always available and avoid pushing too hard if they are reluctant to communicate much in the early stages. 

Having any positive conversation with them on the topic is a big win, and if you handle their feelings properly, they may feel safe enough to introduce more sensitive topics.

Some challenges may inevitably go unaddressed depending on whether your teen is willing to be open with you or not, but what is most important is to respect their feelings and follow these guidelines to provide as many opportunities as possible to help. 

Helping A Teen Through Depression 

The social stigma surrounding depression is often overlooked but is important to understand when trying to help a teen with depression. It is important to let them know that they are not alone and that there is not something inherently wrong with them. 

Once an environment of trust and comfort has been established, it is time to have the often difficult conversation about options for treatment. If possible, have a confidant or person they really trust to help walk them through some of the issues they may be experiencing and some possible solutions.

Consulting a licensed counselor or therapist is a great place to start. They can provide support while establishing a treatment plan and, if necessary, medical intervention.

Medical Causes of Depression 

Aside from social and emotional causes, there can also be causes relating to chemical imbalances involving chemicals in the brain. Many of those that experience depression have low levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, or some combination of the three.

Low levels of serotonin have been associated with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, lessening, reduced quality of sleep, and much more. 

Dopamine deficiency has been linked to anxiety, low sex drive, confusion,  depression, and trouble concentrating.

Improper amounts of norepinephrine can lead to sleeping problems, memory issues, low blood sugar, ADHD, and even low blood pressure.

These three chemicals produced in the brain are essential to how we function and when there is an imbalance, it can greatly affect our daily lives. Fortunately, modern medicine provides a variety of ways to combat and treat depression. 

There are a variety of medications designed to assist in the uptake, reuptake, and production of norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin including: 

Paroxetine (Paxil, Paxil CR)
Sertraline (Zoloft)
Citalopram (Celexa)
Escitalopram (Lexapro)
Venlafaxine (Effexor, Effexor XR)

Always consult with a medical professional before taking any of these medications and only use them as prescribed. Looking into rehab for teenage depression can also be benefical and is a different alternative to medicine. 
Crisis Information

If a teen is experiencing suicidal thoughts or causing any harm to themselves or others, immediately call 911 and your local crisis center. 

Depression is a difficult disease to manage and oftentimes requires medical intervention to treat, so make sure that teens know that it is okay to ask for help. Be as supportive as possible to help your teen through this difficult experience.