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Teen Depression: Symptoms & Causes

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Depression in teenagers is not mini-adult depression. Teens express depression in their own way and they may also have different reasons for becoming depressed than adults. As parents, it is important to learn and understand more about what our child may be going through. Even if you are already familiar with adult depression, you should still learn more about how teens uniquely experience this disease. In this article, I hope to equip you with the knowledge you need to approach your teen about depression and get better together, as a family.

What are the Symptoms of Depression in Teenagers?

In teenagers, depression will take on some of the following symptoms. The symptoms highlighted are unique features of depression in teenagers.

  • The feeling of sadness, perhaps accompanied by unpredictable crying spells
  • Hopelessness
  • Emptiness, a painful lack of feelings of identity
  • Irritability and an Annoyed Mood
  • A short temper, irritability, frustration, and anger sometimes over just minor inconveniences
  • Withdrawal from usual activities
  • Socially withdrawing from friends and family members
  • Withdrawing socially from some, but not all people
  • Low self-esteem
  • Sensitivity to criticism or rejection that seems extreme
  • Loss of the ability to concentrate and make decisions
  • Thoughts of death and suicide that come up frequently
  • Tiredness
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Appetite and Weight Changes: Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Anhedonia- a loss of ability to feel pleasure
  • Slowed speech and movement
  • Substance abuse: using alcohol or drugs, perhaps to self-medicate
  • Frequent unexplainable body aches and pains: sometimes accompanied by frequent trips to the school nurse
  • Social Isolation
  • Poor school performance: Grades that start dropping
  • Neglect for appearance: no longer staying on top of hygiene and perhaps dressing inappropriately
  • Self-harm: cutting and burning of the skin has been seen quite often in depressed teens
  • Angry outbursts and rule-breaking


What Makes Depression in Teenagers and Adults Different?

There are 4 main areas of difference between the expression of adult and teen depression.

1. Teens with depression express irritability and an angry or annoyed mood more often than they express sadness. This is the opposite in adults, who are more likely to have a sad and low temperament. Teens are more likely to go through outbursts and fits of rage when depressed and can become quite ‘hot-headed’. Do you feel like your teen flies off the handle with anger? This might be a sign of depression

2. Frequent unexplainable body aches and pains– Although we do see this happening in depressed adults, it is much more commonly an expression of depression in teenagers. This may be a feature of social and school withdrawal rather than a standalone symptom. Adults with depression don’t have to make excuses to their parents as much as teens with depression. By complaining of aches and pains, teens may really be attempting to ‘get out of’ school and other activities. This is not to say that all aches and pains should be dismissed if you suspect depression. You should take your teen to see a doctor if anything is persisting or unusually intense.

3. An extreme sensitivity to criticism is a symptom of depression that we see in teenagers more often than in adults. Teenagers are under multiple sources of pressure. It is a time of stress, and insecurity. Those years are marked by the conflicting needs to fit in vs stand out as an individual. Many teens are under parental and academic pressure to succeed and achieve, but also are plagued with body and hormone changes which compete for attention. Everyone knows that growing up is hard, which is why we need to be sensitive to a teens insecurities. Adults have had more time to grow secure in their identities, but teens are still working it out. If a small, possibly well intentioned criticism leads to an outburst, your teen might be experiencing depression.

4. Social withdrawal is a fairly universal symptom of depression. However, teens tend not to withdraw from everyone and keep one or two close relationships. Adults tend to avoid all social contact during periods of depression. Sudden changes in social behavior and relationships in your teen may be an indicator of depression.

What Causes Depression in Teenagers?

There is no simple answer to this question, unfortunately. However, psychologists have identified some of the things that contribute to the development of teen depression.

  • Hormonal changes: during the teen years can lead to changes in mood, behavior, and of course the body. Emerging sexuality during puberty may be confusing and stressful, contributing to teen depression.
  • Genetics: Teens who are related to someone with depression or any other mood disorder are more likely to develop depression themselves. Researchers believe that there is a genetic, hereditary component to depression. The same is true for adult depression.
  • Brain Chemistry: Fluctuations in neurotransmitters and receptors in our brains can lead to depression. When the normal patterns of our brain chemistry are disrupted, depression can occur.
  • Trauma: As with adults, teens can develop depression in response to a traumatic event. Whether the event was recent or in early childhood, it can still contribute to teen depression.

Get Help for Depression Today

At Breathe Life Healing Centers, we have highly trained experts with experience treating teen depression. We invite you to contact us to see if we can be of help to you and your family.


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