5 Early Signs of Depression in Teens

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Depression is a mental health disorder that impacts millions of adults throughout the country. What might not be as highlighted is just how much teenagers are also affected by depression. Recognizing the early signs of depression in teens is the first step in getting swift and effective treatment.

According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 3.8 million adolescents between 12 and 17 experienced at least one major depressive disorder in 2019. Mental Health America states that in 2021, 9.7% of youth currently cope with severe depression. 

What is Depression?

Depression is a disorder that affects one’s mood, often impacting an individual’s ability to fully engage in their life.. Most people are familiar with common symptoms of depression, such as feeling hopeless, experiencing suicidal thoughts and tendencies, and having low energy. But there are several other symptoms of depression that often fly under the radar despite having a big impact. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Social isolation
  • Withdrawing from previously enjoyed activities
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Overeating or not eating enough
  • Irritability 

Depression is a lifelong disorder, but its symptoms can be effectively managed with the right treatment. Many people will experience months and years of remission from their symptoms.. Understanding more about depression, such as what causes it and what specific signs teens with it exhibit, can help develop a stronger understanding of this complex mood disorder.

What Causes Depression in Teens?

As parents and caregivers, it can be easy to blame yourself when spot early signs of depression in teens. However, it’s important to remember that depression is a complex disorder with no one specific cause. Often, it is a combination of several factors.

One of the most common causes of depression in teens is brain chemistry. The adolescent brain is still developing and the influx of certain neurochemicals can lead to depression. Genetic factors, such as brain development, can also lead to the onset of depression. Studies show that depression is common in some individuals with a smaller hippocampus, as well as in others who have excessive activity in the amygdala. Both of these areas help individuals in the areas of learning, memory, and threat assessment. When this is the case, depression in teens is best treated with a combination of antidepressant medications and therapy.

Other causes of depression in teens include:

  • Hormonal changes
  • In-person and cyberbullying
  • Early childhood trauma
  • Unhealthy living environment

Teens can also start to experience depression in response to events in their lives, such as:

  • Living with one or more parents who have a substance use disorder or severe mental health condition
  • Being regularly exposed to community violence
  • Having another mental health condition that is not being properly treated. 

Additionally, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been particularly difficult for teens — especially the immediate challenges it creates for them. In the Summer of 2020, for example, American youth reported experiencing worse mental health outcomes, increased substance abuse, and elevated suicidal ideation, according to the CDC. These effects are a direct result of issues such as being unable to attend school in person, see friends, spend time with significant others, or engage in sports or other extracurricular activities. 

5 Early Signs of Depression in Teens

For parents and caregivers, attempting to decode their teenager’s mood can be challenging, as the teens years are notoriously difficult. Often this is because teenagers are learning to establish themselves as independent beings, and are not always willing to talk about their feelings with the adults in their lives. However, it is extremely important to be vigilant when it comes to depression, as this mental health condition can become severe very quickly. 

1. Sadness

Everyone gets sad, but if your teen is noticeably sad for at least every day for two consecutive weeks, they may be dealing with depression. This is one of the early signs of depression in teens, and sometimes it can be accompanied by unexplained episodes of crying or other emotional outbursts.

2. Excessive Irritability

All teens are irritable from time to time. However, if your teen is irritable for at least two weeks, they may be dealing with something more serious. Depression often causes irritability because those who have it can feel easily overwhelmed. They may lack physical and mental energy as a result of this mood disorder. Additionally, these feelings can be overwhelming for young people, who may not have the understanding or experience to acknowledge the breadth of what they’re going through.

3. Worsening Grades

It is not uncommon for teenagers to pull in a bad grade here or there, but if you notice that your teen is starting to experience problems in more than just one area of their studies, it may serve as a signal that depression is occurring. When depressed, some teens lack the energy to do their homework, have trouble studying for tests and quizzes, and experience issues concentrating in class. All of these effects can result in poor grades. 

4. Substance Abuse 

While many teenagers will experiment with alcohol or drugs, it’s important to note that it is not always a sign of depression.. But, if a teen has depression, they may skip experimentation and go directly to abusing drugs or alcohol in an effort to cope with their symptoms. This can result in sudden changes in behavior, appetite, sleep patterns, and physical appearance. 

5. Self-Harm or Suicidal Ideation 

For some teens who don’t know how to talk about their emotional landscape, they may start harming themselves as a way to cope. Self-harm is often an early sign of depression in teens. Some signs of self-harm include:

  • Wearing seasonally inappropriate clothing, such as hoodies in the summer
  • Covering up arms, abdomen, or thighs
  • Unusual amount of cuts or “accidental” burns
  • Avoiding interaction with family and friends, who might notice cuts or burns

Early signs of depression in teens can include suicidal talk and thoughts. For example, a teen who is having suicidal thoughts may start to make jokes about wanting to die. It’s important to be aware that even joking about death or dying can be a red flag that there is something serious going on. It may not be immediately obvious that your teen is having these thoughts. They may turn to creative outlets, like writing music our journaling, to express their feelings. In some cases, teens will make attempts at suicide that they may or may not survive. 

If either of these symptoms is present in your teen, it is important that you get them immediate assistance. Self-harm and suicidal ideation are incredibly serious and should not be taken lightly. 

How to Treat Depression in Teens

At Clear Recovery Center, we specialize in providing quality care and treatment for teens who are experiencing depression, substance abuse, and other mental health issues. Depending on the severity of your teen’s needs, they may enroll in our partial hospitalization program, intensive outpatient program, or outpatient program. Within each program is staff that is experienced, compassionate, and skilled in providing this specific age group the therapy they need to make big changes in their lives.

The team at Clear Recovery Center focuses on implementing evidence-based therapies into each and every teen’s treatment plan. These therapies may include individual therapy, family therapy, experiential therapy, behavioral therapy, and holistic practices. In addition, teens in our programs can also benefit from obtaining treatment after school. They can receive academic and career counseling, and case management services. 

Treating Depression in Teens in Redondo Beach, CA 

Early signs of depression in teens can be difficult to spot, but having an understanding of what to look for can go a long way to getting your young person the help they need. At Clear Recovery Center, we understand how difficult and upsetting it is to have your teen struggling with depression and associated issues. We work with you as one cohesive team to ensure a healthy, effective recovery. 

If your teen needs help, contact us right now by visiting our website or calling 1 (877) 799-1985.

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