How Do I Know if My Teen is Depressed?


Mental health-related disorders consist of many different symptoms, signs, and treatment options. It can be difficult to talk about uncomfortable emotions, thoughts, or behaviors at any age, especially as a teen.

As many parents may know, the teenage years bring about changes in physical appearance, attitude, and relationships. It’s not uncommon to ask yourself “What is wrong with my teen? Is this ‘normal’ behavior?” The truth is, between the ages of 13-17, “normal” is irrelevant.  When it comes to adolescent behavior, it’s important to try and understand:

Why is it happening?

Where is it coming from?

What could be causing it?

Chances are, the answer isn’t simple. Even if it was, that doesn’t mean your teen is willing to admit it. For those of you who have been brave enough to ask, “Are you okay?” “How was school?” “How are you doing?” - you may have been on the receiving end of a silent, cold, or sassy response. So, what next?

Struggles of the Average Teen

To better understand your teen, you must first consider the many things they may be up against each day:

Schoolwork overload
Extra-curricular activity fatigue
Social media
Body image concerns
Comparing themselves to others
Relationship issues
Lack of sleep
Poor appetite
Feeling lonely
Fitting in
Academic challenges

Some of these factors, along with many more, can impact a teen’s day-to-day mood, but there are signs and symptoms that there may be something more serious going on. 

Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Teens

It is important to remember that depression does not discriminate, and it can show up differently for everyone. Long-term sadness, low energy, or isolation are some but not the only signs of depression. In fact, there are many warning signs to consider.   

Potential changes or signs you may notice if your teen is struggling include, but are not limited to:

  • Ignoring friends, canceling plans
  • Ignoring texts, calls, or FaceTimes
  • Spending more time in their room or out of the house
  • Not wanting to participate in social activities or sports
  • Increased irritability, annoyance, or frustration
  • Falling behind on schoolwork or missing school entirely
  • Declining grades
  • Increased arguments at home or with friends
  • Getting in trouble at school or work
  • Falling behind on chores or other responsibilities
  • Change in eating patterns, sleep routine, or energy
  • Shutting down easily
  • Lashing out (yelling, hitting, throwing)
  • Substance use of any kind
  • Making statements about wanting to die
  • Making threats about hurting themselves or killing themselves

While the above signs and symptoms may indicate depression or anxiety for some teens, it is important to note that each example may be of concern if it is different from your child’s baseline (or typical/average way of existing). 

For example:

-  A teen who regularly excels in school but is suddenly failing may be a sign of something more.

-  A teen who has not typically excelled in school and who has grades following the normal pattern may or may not be a concern. 

Addressing Teen Depression

It can be scary to think your teen might be struggling. However, it’s important to take the appropriate actions to ensure things aren’t inadvertently overlooked.  Starting conversations with your teen can be difficult but these conversations are crucial.

If you worry your teen is experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety and you recognize changes from their typical behavior, ask them about it.  By asking, it lets your teen know you care (even if the response is vague or less than welcoming).  If they don’t share and open fully with you, know that this is common and expected.  Don’t take it personally or push for more information. 

Let your teen know you are willing to find them someone to speak with if they are not comfortable speaking with you.  Ensure them that help is available and that you are concerned they might be going through something alone.  Ask them to promise that if something is up and it gets worse, they will approach you to say they need help. Let them know that if/when that happens, you will respect their privacy and act quickly to get them help without asking more questions (and hold yourself to this commitment). 

Managing Your Reaction

Managing your own emotions or reactions during a conversation about your teen’s mental health can also be difficult, but it is highly important.  It is not beneficial to share with your teen any negative feelings you have about their unwillingness to talk to you or fears you have if they are indeed depressed or anxious. Seek support for yourself so you can work this out away from your teen and remain open/neutral/supportive/validating in front of your teen.

Seeking Help for Your Teen

With the uptick in mental health concerns for teens across the country, it can be difficult to find a therapist or doctor in a timely manner. It can require a lot of work on the phone to find the right level of care and fit. 

At Butler Hospital, however, there is a 24/7 call intake line, 1-844-401-0111, where a clinician can assist you in determining the next best step for your teen within one brief phone call. They will be sure you understand your options and if you and your teen are ready, they will assist you in putting the recommended plan in motion.