Recognizing Depression In Teens And Youth

It is not unusual for young people to experience "the blues" or feel "down in the dumps" occasionally. Adolescence is always an unsettling time, with the many physical, emotional, psychological, and social changes that accompany this stage of life.

Unrealistic academic, social, or family expectations can create a strong sense of rejection and can lead to deep disappointment. When things go wrong at school or at home, teens often overreact. Many young people feel that life is not fair or that things "never go their way." They feel "stressed out" and confused. To make matters worse, teens are bombarded by conflicting messages from parents, friends, and society. Today’s teens see more of what life has to offer — both good and bad — on devices, at school, in media and social media.

When teens’ moods disrupt their ability to function on a day-to-day basis, it may indicate a serious emotional or mental disorder that needs attention — adolescent depression. Parents or caregivers must take action.

Many factors can contribute to depression. Studies show that some depressed people have too much or too little of certain brain chemicals. Also, a family history of depression may increase the risk for developing depression. Other factors that can contribute to depression are difficult life events (such as death or divorce), side-effects from some medications and negative thought patterns.

Learn more from Mental Health America.

Association of Screen Time and Depression in Adolescence

Use of social media and television in adolescents may enhance symptoms of depression and should be taken into account.


Social Media Depression Teens Study
Association of Screen Time and Depression in Adolescence

What to look for:

From Boston Children’s Hospital: There are many warning signs and risk factors for suicide. The list below is not exhaustive but is intended to provide insight into what factors might elevate a child or adolescent’s level of suicide risk. This does not mean that if your child or adolescent has some of these risk factors, then s/he will automatically take his/her own life. Suicide risk takes into account many factors and needs to be continuously monitored by a mental health professional. Remember that many factors combine to lead to a suicidal crisis and may include some of those that are listed below.

Risk Factors:

  • Mental illness/psychiatric diagnosis
  • Family history of suicide and/or exposure to suicide Family history of mental illness
  • Physical/sexual abuse
  • Losses
  • Aggressive behavior/impulsivity
  • Lack of social support/social isolation
  • Poor coping skills
  • Access to ways of harming oneself, like guns, knives, etc.
  • Difficulties in dealing with sexual orientation
  • Physical illness
  • Family disruptions (divorce or problems with the law)
  • Traumatic event

Warning Signs:

  • Preoccupation with or talking about death (e.g., recurring themes of death or self-destruction in artwork or written assignments
  • Intense sadness and/or hopelessness
  • Social withdrawal from family, friends, sports, social activities, spending more time alone
  • Problems in school (falling grades, getting into trouble, not paying attention in class)
  • Sleep disturbance (either not sleeping or staying awake all night)
  • Recurring physical ailments (headaches, appetite problems, sleeping problems)
  • Lack of energy, Sluggishness (less active)
  • Inability to think clearly/concentration problems
  • Low self-esteem, not caring about appearance
  • Increased irritability
  • Changes in appetite
  • Giving away possessions
  • Risky behavior
  • Substance abuse
  • Increased device usage, obsession with social media
  • Running away from home


How common is suicide?

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. In 2012 (the most recent year for which data are available), over 40,000 suicide deaths were reported in the United States. During that year, someone living in the U.S. died by suicide every 12.9 minutes.

How can I tell if my child is suicidal?

You can start by asking your child if he or she is thinking about suicide. Be sure to ask them in clear, straight-forward language like, “I’m worried about you. Have you been having thoughts about wanting to die or killing yourself?” People who attempt or complete suicide often exhibit a number of warning signs, either through what they say or by what they do. The more warning signs a teenager exhibits, the higher the risk of completing suicide. If you think your child might be at risk for suicide, you should have him/her evaluated by a professional. You could call your primary care physician, your child’s therapist or psychiatrist, your local mobile crisis team, or visit the closest emergency department. In an emergency, you should call 911.

What is the difference between suicide in children and suicide in adults?

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in young people between the ages of 10 and 24, but it is the 10th leading cause of death for the overall population. Although firearms are the most frequently used method for death by suicide in the United States, the most frequent methods used by teenagers are hanging, jumping from high places, and overdosing on pills or other poisons.

Reduce Access to Means of Suicide

Reducing access to means such as firearms and medications that can potentially be misused to cause injury or death is one of the most effective ways to reduce suicide risk across all age groups. Methods to reduce access include safe storage and restriction or removal of these means.

For more information:

How to Respond

If you notice any of these warning signs in anyone, you can help!
1. Ask if they are ok or if they are having thoughts of suicide
2. Express your concern about what you are observing in their behavior
3. Listen attentively and non-judgmentally
4. Reflect what they share and let them know they have been heard
5. Tell them they are not alone
6. Let them know there are treatments available that can help
7. If you are or they are concerned, guide them to additional professional help