Adolescent Depression Signs & Symptoms

Depression in adolescents can be hard to spot. Learn about the warning signs & symptoms to watch for.

Understanding Adolescent Depression

Learn about adolescent depression

The ongoing feelings of sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness experienced by young people battling depression are known to severely impact their lives in a negative way. The downtrodden mood that is caused by the presence of this disorder can hinder a youth when he or she is trying to achieve in school settings. Additionally, depression can prevent a youth from being able to effectively cope with life’s stressors and there is an increased risk for self-harm and suicidal ideation when this illness is a factor in a young person’s life.

Parents and caregivers of a young person with depression can act as their child’s advocate and help him or her get the beneficial and life-saving treatment he or she needs to be able to manage this illness. By not affording a young person with care, there is an increased risk for substance abuse. The reason for this is because the symptoms of depression can be so overwhelming that drugs and/or alcohol can offer a young person a false self of relief when under the influence. Substance use can render a young person vulnerable to addiction or dependence if a problem of this kind also remains untreated. Finally, untreated depression symptoms can worsen and additional mental health concerns can emerge. By seeking treatment for a young person with depression, the previously mentioned adversities can be avoided and the youth receiving care can ultimately go on to live a happy, healthy life.


Adolescent depression statistics

Many children and adolescents carry the potential for developing depression. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has published statistics that report the prevalence of depression among young people. The CDC’s findings estimate that three percent of children and thirteen percent of adolescents are presently battling depression symptoms. Sadly, within the same reported supplied by the CDC, only 50% of youth who meet diagnostic criteria actually receive treatment to alleviate the devastating symptoms of this mental health condition.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for adolescent depression

While a single cause for depression has yet to be discovered, developmental specialists and mental health experts agree that there are a number of factors that can determine how and why some people develop depression, while others do not. The following explanations, along with risk factors, elaborate on this notion:

Genetic: It has been realized, through extensive research, that individuals with a family history of depression have a fifty percent chance of also developing symptoms of this disorder at some point in life. Because of this finding, it can be said that young people with a family history of a depressive disorder have a greater chance of meeting diagnostic criteria for depression and that a potential cause for this is due to genetics.

Environmental: Developmental specialists and mental health professionals agree that the environment in which a youth is raised can significantly impact whether or not a youth will come to suffer from depression. The impact of a young person’s environment can be especially powerful if a youth possesses a genetic predisposition to depressive disorders. More specifically, if a young person is exposed to trauma or ongoing stress, depression symptoms can emerge. Furthermore, if a youth is bullied by peers or experiences negative interactions with caregivers, there is a high likelihood that the symptoms of depression will become apparent.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of depression or other mental illnesses
  • Personal history of other mental health conditions
  • Family or personal history of substance use or abuse
  • Experiencing fluctuations in hormone levels
  • Bring the victim of a crime
  • Being bullied by peers
  • Having low-self esteem
  • Experiencing abrupt life changes
  • Being female
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Being a victim of abuse and/or neglect
  • Exposure to trauma
  • Exposure to chronic stress

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of adolescent depression

Young people who are depressed often display signs and symptoms that can be observed by others in their lives. Parents, caregiver, educators, and other concerned loved ones may notice certain signs in the way a youth behaves, appears physically, and conveys emotions. If you notice a young person displaying any of the following, it is important to consult with a mental health professional to discuss the possibility of depression being a factor in that youth’s life.

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Angry or emotional outbursts
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Lethargy
  • Crying
  • Poor academic performance
  • Missing school
  • Chronic lateness to class
  • Declined interest in things or activities that were once enjoyed

Physical symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Problems digesting food
  • Body aches or pain
  • Injuries as a result of self-harm
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Stomachaches

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Impaired decision-making
  • Slowed thinking
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Difficulty forming memories

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Angry outbursts
  • Negative attitude
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Hopeless feelings
  • Lowered self-esteem
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Worthless feelings
  • Irritability


Effects of adolescent depression

Depression symptoms have the capacity to become worse over time. Because of this, certain effects can occur in a young person’s life and cause further strife a turmoil for that youth. The following consequences are possible if a young person grappling with depression does not receive treatment to alleviate symptoms of this condition:

  • Frequent absences from school
  • Academic failure
  • Disciplinary action at school
  • Expulsion from school
  • Development of another mental health condition
  • Increased conflict with peers and loved ones
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Drastic changes in weight
  • Somatic symptoms of pain
  • Substance abuse
  • Self-injury
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Suicide attempts
  • Insomnia
  • Impaired academic functioning
  • Truancy

Co-Occurring Disorders

Adolescent depression and co-occurring disorders

When a youth is battling depression, it is quite common for that young person to be struggling with the symptoms of another mental illness at the same time. For some, depression symptoms can emerge after the symptoms of another condition begin to affect that youth. Moreover, depression can cause a young person to develop another illness if depression symptoms are not care for when they first become apparent. The listed disorders are those that can be diagnosed at the same time as a depressive disorder, disorder that could require their own specific treatment should care be sought:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder

I was diagnosed with depression 1 year ago and had weekly sessions with my Harbor Oaks therapist whom is the most supportive and understanding person. Without her and the rest of the staff I would not be who I am today.

– Former Patient
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