Teenage Depression – How to Deal With It and Treatment Options

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Being a teenager is already challenging enough, but being a teenager having to deal with a psychological disorder can be pretty exhausting. Many young people have to deal with depression. It’s a common and serious condition that affects how a person thinks, feels and behaves. Over 2 million adolescents from ages 12 to 17 (about 13 percent of the teenage population in the US) have had at least one episode of clinical depression. Fortunately, depression is a condition that can be treated. 

What Causes Depression?

A person’s ability to think, feel and move is dependent on neurotransmitters, highly specialized chemicals that allow individual nerves, called neurons, to work together. Neurons form large networks of living circuits that control how we think, as well as our emotions. Researchers believe depression and other psychological disorders may be caused when the brain produces too little of essential neurotransmitters.

How to Identify Teenage Depression and Its Symptoms

It can be challenging to identify teenage depression unless you know what to look for. After all, adolescence overflows with moodiness, irritability and sometimes outrageous, rebellious behavior. Depression in any age group usually has no visible cause. Depression in adolescence often comes on slowly.

Kids with depression typically show a notable departure from their average behavior. Withdrawing from family and friends is often the first notice parents get that things are going awry with their teen. Parents may notice them staying alone in their room and rarely coming out. Depressed teens will typically isolate themselves and withdraw from their friends. On the other hand, depressed teens may rely on their phones and social media to an even greater degree than before.

None of these symptoms by itself is enough for a diagnosis of depression, which is why a formal diagnosis from a psychiatrist or mental health professional is necessary. If you’re trying to discern whether or not your child’s condition is teenage sadness or depression, note that for a diagnosis of depression to be made, a teen must have the first two symptoms daily, every day for at least two weeks, along with at least five of the other symptoms.

  • Feelings of deep, relentless sadness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities (anhedonia)
  • Isolating behaviors and withdrawing from friends and family
  • Feelings of guilt, shame
  • Drop in energy levels, increased lethargy
  • Panic attacks, increased anxiety in the absence of any stressor
  • Unusual levels of irritability, lashing out verbally
  • Aggression. Teen boys are particularly prone to physical aggression when depressed.
  • A significant decline in grades
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Drastic changes in appetite or weight (at least 5 percent of the teen’s body weight)
  • Sluggishness. A depressed teen may move more slowly than usual.
  • Fidgeting, restlessness, inability to stay still
  • Self-mutilation, such as cutting on their skin
  • Suicidal thoughts or gestures

How to Treat Teenage Depression

Dealing with your teenager’s depression is hard to do on your own. Working with a psychotherapist makes recovery much more certain. Step one is getting a diagnosis. Your family doctor may be able to recommend a psychiatrist or give you a referral.

A psychiatrist will often order the following tests and treatments:

  • Physical exams, including labs. There are some physical conditions that mimic psychological disorders, like hyper- and hypothyroidism. Many physical conditions aggravate depression and need treatment along with the mood disorder itself.
  • Psychological evaluation. A mental healthcare professional will meet with your young person and get a sense of what’s going on. A psychosocial evaluation takes less than two hours and gives a valuable look at what’s troubling your teen. The evaluation will point to what type of care is necessary.  Every person experiences depression differently from one another. The psychological evaluation allows a proper diagnosis to be made. It also assesses your teen’s risk of suicide.
  • Medication. A psychiatrist can determine if your teen requires medication and what antidepressant medication is the best for them and their unique needs.
  • Psychotherapy. Psychotherapy can be conducted by a psychologist, psychiatrist or psychotherapist.

What are the Best Treatments for Teenage Depression?

There is no way to prevent teenage depression, just as there’s no way to prevent depression in any age group. However, there are some very effective treatments. The best treatments for teenage depression include a combination of medication and psychotherapy. 

Psychotherapy for adolescent depression involves your teen meeting with a mental healthcare professional once a week. Teens learn about what contributes to their depression and ways to manage it. Depression usually requires therapy with antidepressant medications. Although parents can be resistant to the idea of medicating their child, it’s crucial to understand that depression is a medical condition that responds best to a combination of psychotherapy and medication. 

This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer. 

Works Cited

Depression. (n.d.). Retrieved April 1, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml

Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia). Retrieved April 2, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/dysthymia-a-to-z

Marcotte, D. (1997, June 6). Treating depression in adolescence: A review of the effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral treatments. Retrieved April 4, 2020, from https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-005-0002-6

Tompson, M. C., McNeil, F. M., Rea, M. M., & Asarnow, J. R. (2000, March). Identifying and treating adolescent depression. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070798/

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