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8 Signs Of Depression in Teens And How To Turn Things Around

Signs Of Depression in Teens

Prior to 1970 children were not depressed. Sad at times, sure, but not depressed. At least that was the prevailing thought among child therapists during those times… and it was 100% wrong.

The truth is that five percent of children (one in twenty) will have a major struggle with depression before reaching the age of 18 years. That is, these children will be so deeply depressed for such an extended period of time that they require referral for professional help.

signs of depression in teens
8 Signs Of Depression in Teens And How To Turn Things Around

From the chart above you can see that depression is most common in the pre-teen and teen years. (The same is true of anxiety). This is due to several factors that arise during this time in a youngster’s life. These include intense peer pressure, insecurity, conflict with parents, and a pervasive sense of not living up to expectations.

Related: Depression In Children: 18 Identifying Signs of Childhood Depression

What To Look For To See If Your Child Is Depressed

You may be wondering what depression looks like in a child or teen. The short answer, it looks pretty much like depression in an adult.

This includes:

signs of depression in teens
Signs of depression in teens
  • Acting sad (moping around the house, slouched posture, unhappy facial expression)
  • Crying frequently and easily provoked to tears
  • Changes in sleep (this could be increased sleep, decreased sleep, problems getting to sleep, etc.)
  • Changes in appetite (dramatic increases or reductions in appetite, often with changes in body weight).
  • Lack of energy (they play less, move less, are harder to get moving into the car, to the dinner table, out of bed in the morning, etc.)
  • Change in attention/concentration. Your child has gone from having an adequate focus to having a difficult time concentrating on homework, or other subjects.
  • Anhedonia. This is a Latin word. It means someone fails to feel pleasure in activities that had been (and normally are) pleasurable. (Pro Insight: We therapists are fond of Latin words, they help us feel that we know something others don’t). The idea with anhedonia is that activities that the child use to be attention-grabbing and pleasurable are no longer of interest.
  • Feeling helpless or hopeless.

Want to know more about childhood depression and teenage depression? Check this video out below!

depression in children and teens

You will find those same symptom features in adult depression. The one thing that often stands out differently with children, and often with adolescents, is that when depressed they have a tendency to act out, tantrum, and have angry outbursts in addition to the above symptoms.

Anyone looking over that list of symptoms is going to think “Every child does these things from time to time. How do you know when these symptoms mean a kiddo is depressed?” Great question. Come to the front of the class.

Therapists generally refer to specific diagnostic criteria to make that determination. I’m not going to go into the intricacies of different symptoms, and the duration of symptoms associated with different depressive disorders.

It is more helpful to make two suggestions.


If your child has three of the symptoms listed above, and they have lasted two weeks or more, consult your pediatrician.


Go to the following website and complete a three-minute ‘childhood depression’ quiz.

Related: 4 Common Symptoms Of Depression In Children

Helping The Depressed Child Or Adolescent

If you have a child that is depressed, you definitely want to fix or solve, whatever is causing the depression. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to figure out exactly what this may be.

One reason finding the cause can be difficult is that younger children lack insight. A child may have experienced a great deal of change in life, and this resulted in high levels of stress, but the youngster does not connect the two. He or she can’t quite put their finger on the cause of stress.

Were they able to do so, they might say “Ah, yes, that’s it. That’s what has changed and it’s bothered me much more than I realized. Yes indeed, it’s really pulled the rug out from under me you know?”

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Forrest Talley Ph.D.

Forrest Talley, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Folsom California. Prior to opening this practice, he spent 21 years working at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center. During that time he supervised MFT and SW interns, psychology interns, and medical residents. In addition, he was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at UCDMC. He worked in several capacities at the UCDMC CAARE Center. These include Co-Training Director of the APA approved psychology internship program, the Individual and Group Therapy Manager, primary supervisor for interns and staff, and the main supplier of bagels/cream cheese for all souls at the UCDMC CAARE Center.View Author posts