The mental and emotional disorder known as adolescent depression is no different medically from adult depression. However, in teens the symptoms may manifest themselves in different ways than in adults. This may be because teens face different social and developmental challenges, such as peer pressure, changing hormone levels, and developing bodies. Depression isn’t a condition people can “snap out of” or simply “cheer up” from. It’s a real medical condition that can affect a person’s life in every manner if it’s not treated properly.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), around 3.2 million Americans between 12 and 17 years old had at least one major depressive episode in 2017. They represent 13.3 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in the United States. Females were around three times as likely as males to report a depressive episode.
How Does One Know Their Teenager Is Depressed?
The symptoms of depression can often be difficult for parents to spot. Depression is sometimes confused with the typical feelings of puberty and teenage adjustment.
However, depression is more than boredom or a disinterest in school. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), symptoms of teen depression include:
- appearing sad or irritable
- crying spells
- changes in appetite or weight (poor appetite is the most common)
- a decreased interest in activities once seen as pleasurable (anhedonia)
- feeling fatigued/lethargic
- difficulty concentrating or maintaining focus
- feelings of guilt
- worthlessness, or helplessness
- alcohol or drug misuse
- major changes in sleeping habits, difficulty falling asleep or early AM wakening
- regular complaints of boredom
- talking about or thinking of suicide
- withdrawal from friends or after-school activities
- worsening school performance
Risk Factors for Adolescent Depression
Factors that may increase a teen’s risk for depression include:
- a family crisis, such as death or divorce
- having a difficult time with their sexual orientation, in the case of teens who are LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, and more)
- having trouble adjusting socially
- having no social or emotional support
- living in a violent household
- being bullied
- having a chronic illness
- Teens who have trouble adjusting socially or who lack a support system have an especially high risk of depression.
Depression in teens is highly treatable once a diagnosis is made.