What Are The Obvious – and Not So Obvious – Signs of Depression in Teens?

Content note: this article discusses depression and suicidal ideation and behaviors. If you or someone you love is feeling suicidal, you can reach out to the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by simply calling 988 in the United States.

Depression is one of the most common mental health conditions. Many people think of depression as a disorder that primarily impacts adults. However, it also impacts a significant number of teens. As with adults, depression in teens may range from mild to severe. It may last several weeks, several months, or a year or longer. For some teens, depression may elicit suicidal thoughts and even result in death by suicide. Parents should never ignore this or dismiss it as a typical “symptom” or phase of adolescence. Many don’t recognize the painful signs of depression for a teenager.

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Signs Of Depression For a Teenager

The clinical picture of adolescent depression often looks quite different than adult depression. This is one of the many reasons why parents sometimes wholly miss the signs. Parents often miss signs like irritability, laziness, excessive sleep, low motivation, and moodiness. They attribute them to adolescent hormones and assume they will eventually pass.

Low Energy And Loss Of Motivation

If your usually active, energetic teen has become increasingly lazy, it could be a symptom of depression. Depression robs a person of energy, enthusiasm, and excitement. It becomes challenging for teens to get out of bed or off the couch, let alone get moving. What may look like laziness may be an inability to find the energy to do anything.

Isolation And Withdrawal

Not all teens are gregarious extroverts who love spending time with friends and family. Some teens are happy investing significant amounts of time exploring solo interests. But most teens, regardless of where they fall on the introvert-extrovert continuum, enjoy spending at least some of their time with others, especially their closest friends. Social isolation and becoming increasingly withdrawn may signal depression. If your teen frequently spends time alone and pushes everyone else away, they may show signs of depression.

Notable Changes In Sleep Or Appetite

As mentioned earlier, teens who sleep excessively may not do so out of laziness. Granted, teens require more sleep than adults due to growth spurts and other factors unique to their age. But depression may be playing a significant role in hypersomnia as well. Insomnia can also be an indicator of depression, especially if anxiety is also present. Some teens will start eating more than usual. In contrast, others lose interest in food and struggle to eat anything. Increased eating, especially starchy comfort foods high in sugar or salt, may also be a way to soothe or “stuff” painful emotions.

Loss Of Interest Or Feelings Of Apathy

One of the hallmarks of depression in both adults and adolescents is a loss of interest in anything and everything they once enjoyed. Teens often express this apathetic attitude with phrases like “who cares,” “I don’t care,” “I don’t know,” or “whatever.” Depressed teens tend to lose interest in almost everything. Having fun and experiencing joy become difficult, if not impossible. Not to mention, everything begins to take far too much effort.

Poor School Performance

Depression makes concentrating, focusing, making decisions, and thinking difficult. It also causes fatigue and lethargy. Each of these things can harm your teen’s academic performance and performance at a job or in sports and other activities.

Drug Or Alcohol Abuse

Many teens experiment with alcohol or drugs at some point. This is due to peer pressure, curiosity, or the desire to “fit in” or “look cool.” But some teens turn to substances for a much more serious reason. They use them to escape —a way to self-medicate painful symptoms of depression or other mental health disorders.

Angry Or Irritable Mood

While depression is often associated with profound feelings of sadness, sadness may not be an observable or even conscious emotion. Many depressed teens become irritable or angry, acting out their painful feelings. Teens anger their parents but might also become irritable towards friends, siblings, coworkers, and other adults.


Hopelessness is a very common part of depression. For teens, this is because every negative event or feeling often seems so big, so powerful, so major, so life-altering, so “forever.” For example, the painful end of a three-month romantic relationship can feel like the end of the world to a 16-year-old who has never dated. Teens lack perspective because they simply do not have lived life experiences. That can quickly lead to overwhelming hopelessness in a vulnerable teen.

Suicidal Thoughts And Behavior

One of the greatest dangers of depression (and especially feelings of hopelessness) is that it can trigger suicidal thoughts. While people die from suicide for various reasons, hopelessness is one of the greatest motivators. Teens are especially prone to regard suicide as the best or only means of escape.

Some teens reveal their feelings of hopelessness or thoughts of suicide in subtle ways:

  • They may hint at not having a future or give their most cherished possessions to friends or loved ones.
  • They may talk about being a burden or suggest that everyone would be better off if they were no longer around. Other teens are much more straightforward concerning how they’re feeling and what they’re planning.
  • They may post “goodbye” statements on Facebook or other social media sites
  • Some will state several times that they wish they were dead or threaten to kill themselves

If no one takes them seriously, this can increase the risk of a suicide attempt by reinforcing their belief that they do not matter or have a voice and making it easy for them to carry out a suicide plan.

Overcoming Signs of Depression in a Teenager with Promises Right Step

Depression is a serious mental health condition that requires professional, timely help. That’s why it’s so crucial for parents to recognize the signs of depression in their teens and take appropriate action. Prompt intervention can prevent symptoms from worsening and minimize the risk of suicide or other serious consequences.

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