Could My Teen Have Depression?

Could My Teen Have Depression?

A certain amount of moodiness and acting out is normal for teens, so I’m often asked how to know if a teen is struggling with depression.

We usually think of sadness as the main symptom, but depressed teens may act irritable, angry, and agitated much of the time. Be watchful for the length of time your teen is exhibiting the symptoms, how severe the symptoms are and how different these behaviors are from his or her normal interactions. Additionally, if you observe a consistent increase in several of the following symptoms it may indicate depression:

  • Tearfulness or crying outbursts
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Eats more/less than normal
  • Sleeps more/less than normal
  • No motivation, low energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • No interest in normal activities
  • Withdraws from friends and family
  • School performance declines
  • Feels worthless, guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Start a Conversation

Even if you are unsure depression is the issue, talk with your teen about the concerning behaviors and emotions you have observed. Let your teen know:

  • You care and want to help.
  • You’ve noticed specific changes in behavior and emotions.
  • You need their help in order to understand what they are going through.

Focus on Listening

Resist the urge to ask a lot of questions. Teens will feel interrogated and controlled instead of heard and understood.

Refrain from criticizing or passing judgment. No one wants to share thoughts and feelings just to be told they are wrong and need to be fixed.

Let your teen know you are willing to listen unconditionally to whatever they share.

Validate Their Experience

Even if what your child shares seems trivial, silly or irrational, don’t try to explain why things aren’t as bad as they seem. Your teen will feel you’re just one more person who doesn’t “get it” or is unwilling to take them seriously.

Instead, acknowledge his or her pain and sadness, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. Your teen needs to feel safe in order to be open to any suggestions you may have.

Collaborate to Determine Treatment Choices

If your teen’s symptoms are making it difficult for him or her to function effectively, seek help from a qualified mental health professional specializing in adolescent treatment. Involve your teen in the decision-making process to help him or her feel comfortable with treatment.

Maintain Hope

Depression is a serious health problem, but only when left untreated does it have lasting impacts. Teens have the best chance of enjoying a satisfying and productive life when depression is diagnosed and treated early.

How Pine Rest Can Help

We provide assessments, therapy, psychiatry, intensive day programs and hospitalization with state-licensed clinicians specializing in the treatment of adolescents. Learn more at pinerest.org/depression.


Jean Holthaus, LISW is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and clinic manager at the Pine Rest Pella Clinic. She earned a BA in Elementary Education from the University of Northern Iowa and a Masters of Social Work from the University of Iowa in 1995.

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