- Depression in teens is a serious mental health concern, with numerous causes.
- Factors that may contribute to depression in teens include a family history of depression, hormone fluctuations, grief, bullying, abuse, and other adverse childhood experiences.
- Some of the physical signs of teenage depression involve fatigue, difficulty concentrating, self-harming behavior, substance use, and changes to sleep and eating patterns.
- Adolescent girls are at increased risk of depression, due to body image-related pressures, greater use of social media, and disproportionate exposure to cyberbullying and other forms of online harassment.
- Depressive disorders don’t often go away on their own, and depressive episodes can last years. It’s best to connect with a compassionate provider, like those at Thriveworks, who offer empathetic, evidence-based care via therapy and psychiatric services.
Adults aren’t the only ones who can experience depression: Depression in teens is an increasingly common and serious mental health issue. Teenage depression may look like moodiness and irritation on the surface, but underneath, there’s genuine emotional pain. Teenage depression may conjure dark feelings of sadness, frustration, and fatigue that last much longer than a simple mood swing. The symptoms of depression in teens can make enjoying daily activities or pursuing interests and passions seem impossible.
Symptoms of depression in teens may seem easy to brush aside as temporary states of unhappiness, but increasing evidence suggests that depression rates in U.S. teens are rising. Recognizing leading causes, signs, and both the physical and mental symptoms of depression in teens is a crucial step toward getting treatment for these young individuals and recognizing the need for preventative care.
What Is the Leading Cause of Teenage Depression?
Like many other mental health conditions, depressive disorders have no singular leading cause; instead, researchers, counselors, and psychiatrists all view depression in teens as arising from multiple, possibly comorbid factors. Contemporary research continues to expand into an increasingly large number of contributors to depression in teens and other groups, but at present, some of the most understood causes include:
- A family history of depressive disorders
- Brain chemistry imbalances
- Hormone fluctuations
- Adverse childhood experiences such as grief, bullying, divorced parents, abuse, and other forms of trauma
These leading causes of depression in teens aren’t always the reason for an adolescent developing depression; individual circumstances can vary greatly.
What Are the Signs of Depression in Teens?
The signs of teenage depression may depend on the age of the teenager, how long they’ve been depressed, their personality, external circumstances, and their ability to cope with emotional distress. With this in mind, signs of depression in teens include the following:
- Profound sadness
- Unexplainable fatigue and lethargy
- Feeling hopeless or apathetic
- Becoming frustrated or angry over even small inconveniences
- Becoming more socially reclusive than usual
- Loss of interest in daily life, hobbies, relationships, and academic achievements
- Behavioral issues in class or extracurricular activities
- Thoughts of death or suicide—which may be expressed in art, writing, music, or social media
Beyond the emotional signs of depression in teens, there are numerous ways that teenage depression can manifest in physical symptoms.
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How Does Depression Affect the Teenage Body?
Depressive disorders, when present, are known to cause certain bodily changes in teens, as well as all other age groups. Some of the ways that teenage depression can affect adolescents may involve:
- Weight loss or gain, even without undereating or overeating
- Altered sleep patterns, including trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or even oversleeping
- Difficulty concentrating or sitting still for long periods
- Feeling very tired or not having energy
- Shortened or (in rare cases) skipped periods in girls
- Increased likelihood of substance use
Teens with pre-existing physical health conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, or heart conditions may be extra susceptible to developing teenage depression. In addition, modern research findings indicate a poorly understood but potential link between the development of depression in all age groups and the eventual development or increased risk of chronic physical conditions.
What Causes Depression in Teenage Girls?
The American Association and Anxiety and Depression report that by their mid-teens, adolescent girls are twice as likely to develop a depressive disorder as boys are. Though many of the causes of depression in teenage girls are the same for both genders, teenage girls suffer from an increased risk of developing a depressive disorder than boys, possibly due to experiencing:
- Elevated risk of body-image-related issues, due to gender-specific social and digital influences and pressure to appear a “certain way”
- Greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder, which increases with more frequent social media usage
- Greater likelihood of developing an anxiety disorder, which evidence suggests can cause or be caused by underlying depressive symptoms
- More exposure to cyberbullying or other forms of digital harassment and hazing, mostly due to higher rates of self-reported social media use
Social media, in particular, seems to play an underemphasized role in high rates of teenage depression in girls. One study concluded that social interactions and perceived social popularity play a larger role in adolescent girls’ measurements of self-worth than in boys, which is likely also a contributing factor to their increased chance of developing teenage depression.
What Are the Early Signs of Depression in a Teenage Girl?
As listed above, many of the early signs of depression in teens can be identical between boys and girls. That being said, teenage depression’s early warning signs in girls may involve:
- Irritability or feeling on edge
- Easily becoming mentally fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating and remembering details
- Muscle tension
- Uncharacteristic risk-taking (even when accounting for age), which might entail acting out at school having unprotected sex, or partaking in underage drinking
- Lack of interest in family life or friendships
- Self-harming behavior
What Percent of Teens Are Depressed?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 13.84% of teens suffered at least one major depressive episode in 2021, and that number seems to be increasing consecutively each year. Depression can afflict anyone, but symptoms often begin in one’s teens and early adulthood. Current data suggests that certain teens are at higher risk of depression, such as those who:
- Already suffer from another mental health condition
- Have a history of dysfunctional family dynamics or family conflict
- Have been diagnosed (or remain undiagnosed) with ADHD
- Suffer from low self-esteem or have undeveloped/poor coping skills
- Are members of the LGBTQ+ community
What Is the Youngest Age You Can Be Diagnosed with Depression?
Children as young as 3 years of age can experience depression, according to some researchers. That being said, it’s uncommon for especially young toddlers and children to show signs of depression, but they may express their emotions in a way that’s better interpreted through age-appropriate therapeutic methods, just as play therapy. So when it comes to adolescents, it doesn’t matter whether a teen is 13 or 19; depression can still develop.
That’s why it’s so important to take the signs of teenage depression seriously—which might start with talking to a psychiatric provider or counselor. Mental health professionals can offer deep insight and compassion, all while encouraging teens to push forward with coping strategies and/or medication that helps them fight back against depression. If you think you’re experiencing the symptoms of teenage depression, talk with your parents about connecting with a mental health professional. And for parents, support your teen by helping them find the psychiatric care provider or adolescent therapist that’s right for them.