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Signs of Depression in Teens

Mary Lucas, RN

Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 4/4/2022

Depression is a common mental illness that can affect individuals of all ages, including people in their teens. In fact, data from 2020 showed that teenagers and young adults had the highest past-year rate of depressive episodes of any age group.

While we often think of depression as involving sadness, the most common signs of depression in teens can be very different. Many teenagers become irritable, angry and sensitive to criticism when depressed, and issues such as social withdrawal are common.

If you’re in your teens and think you might be depressed, or you’re the parent of a teenager, it’s important to be able to recognize these signs and take action to receive expert help.

Below, we’ve explained the basics of how depression can develop in teens, as well as signs of depression to look for. 

We’ve also discussed treatment options for depression in teenagers and young adults, such as therapy, medication and habits and lifestyle changes that can provide relief from symptoms and assist in recovery. 

The Basics of Depression in Teens

Major depressive disorder (MDD, or simply depression) is a serious mood disorder that affects just about every aspect of your life. It can cause mental symptoms that affect your moods and thoughts, as well as physical symptoms that affect your sleep, energy and wellbeing.

Depression in teenagers is extremely common. In fact, one out of every five teenagers will have depression at some point. 

What Causes Depression in Teenagers?

Experts aren’t yet aware of precisely what causes depression to develop. Currently, research suggests that a mix of genetic, environmental and psychological factors are all involved in the development of most forms of depression.

Although the exact cause of depression isn’t known, researchers have identified specific risk factors for depression in teens. You may be more at risk of becoming depressed during your teens if you:

  • Have a family history of mood disorders or mental illness

  • Feel critical about yourself and have low self-esteem

  • Have difficulty socializing and making friends

  • Have problems with your parents or everyday family life

  • Experience a stressful event, such as divorcing parents or a death in the family

  • Go through a difficult personal event, such as breaking up with a partner

  • Fall behind in school or suffer from learning disabilities

  • Have a chronic illness or other physical health issues

Although depression occurs in both boys and girls, teenage girls are more likely to become affected by depression. In fact, their likelihood is double that of boys.

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Signs of Depression in Teens

Depression is much more than feelings of sadness. When you’re depressed, you may develop severe symptoms that affect just about every aspect of your daily life, from your moods to your ability to enjoy certain activities, focus in school and connect with your friends.

Common symptoms of depression in teens include:

  • Feelings of extreme sadness, including persistent sadness that occurs most of the day

  • Finding it difficult to enjoy or find satisfaction in activities you normally like

  • Withdrawing from other people, including your parents, friends and romantic partner

  • Feelings of irritability and difficulty staying in control of certain feelings

  • Sudden outbursts of anger, frustration and other strong emotions

  • Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness or that you’re guilty of something

  • Physical ailments, such as headaches, stomach aches and physical pain

  • A feeling that you’re physically tired and out of energy during the daytime

It’s normal to occasionally experience some of these symptoms. For example, many people go through periods of sadness and irritability. However, if these symptoms are unusually persistent or severe, they may be signs that you have clinical depression.

Some symptoms of depression can result in changes in your behavior and routines. You might notice that you:

  • Need to sleep more than normal, or find it difficult to fall asleep

  • Find it difficult to concentrate and fall behind in your school performance

  • Spend less time doing assignments, homework or attending school classes

  • Make changes to your eating habits, such as eating more or less than normal

  • Prefer to spend time by yourself instead of taking part in events and activities

  • Feel like drinking alcohol, using drugs, having unsafe sex or doing other high-risk things

If you have depression, you may also have other mental health issues, such as anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Depression may also co-occur with an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa. 

Depression and Signs of Suicide

If you have severe depression, you may develop thoughts that involve death or suicide. This is called suicidal ideation, and it’s a serious issue that you, your family and other people that care about you should be aware of.

Signs of an increased risk of suicide include:

  • Openly talking about death or suicide

  • Sudden increases in risk-taking behavior

  • Saying goodbye to friends, family and loved ones

  • Giving away possessions to other people

  • Withdrawing from relationships with others

If you notice these signs in yourself, or if you’re the parent or friend of a teen that displays signs of suicidal thoughts or a potential suicide attempt, it’s important to seek help.

You can do this by contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or your local emergency services (911).

How to Treat Depression

Depression is a serious mental disorder, and if you think you’re depressed, it’s important to seek help.

If you’re feeling depressed, understand that it isn’t your fault. Depression can affect anyone, and being depressed doesn’t mean that you’re weak, that you’ve done something wrong, or that you should feel guilty about your feelings.

Depression almost always gets better with treatment, but in order to get treatment, you’ll need to talk to someone about how you’re feeling.

You can get help for depression by talking to a parent, trusted family member or by reaching out to your primary care provider. If you have signs of depression, your primary care provider might refer you to a mental health provider that specializes in adolescent depression.

If you feel uncomfortable talking to a family member about your depressive symptoms, or have a family issue that you think is contributing to your depression, you can also talk to your school counselor.

You can read our guide on how to tell someone you're depressed if you need more advice.

If you’re above the age of 18 and would like to seek help on your own, you can connect directly with a licensed psychiatry provider from home using our depression treatment online service.

Based on the severity of your depression symptoms, your mental health history and your needs, your mental health provider may suggest taking part in online therapy, using medication to control your symptoms or making changes to your habits and lifestyle.

Therapy for Depression

Depression often gets better with psychotherapy, or talk therapy. This type of therapy involves talking about how you feel with a licensed mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, a psychologist or a counselor.

Several forms of talk therapy are used to treat teen depression, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This form of therapy involves identifying and changing negative thoughts that cause you to feel depressed. It also involves developing new skills to cope with your feelings.

Psychotherapy is effective, but it can take time to work. You may need to participate in therapy for several weeks or months before you notice improvements in how you think and feel. 

Medications for Depression

If you have clinical depression, your mental health provider may prescribe a type of medication called an antidepressant

This type of medication works by changing the levels of certain natural chemicals, referred to as neurotransmitters, in your brain. Taking an antidepressant can help you to feel better and stop your depression symptoms from interfering with your everyday life. 

Antidepressants can take three to four weeks to start working, and you may need to try several medications before finding one that works well for you. If you’re prescribed any antidepressant medication, don’t stop using it without first talking to your healthcare provider.

Habits and Lifestyle Changes

Sometimes, making changes to your habits and living a general lifestyle can help to make the symptoms of depression less severe. Try to:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle by exercising regularly. Regular physical activity helps to reduce the severity of depression by releasing endorphins — natural chemicals that raise your mood. Even a short walk or bike ride might help you to feel better.

  • Stick to a regular sleep schedule. Try to go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time each night, even on weekends. Aim for the CDC’s recommendation of at least eight hours of sleep per night.

  • Spend time with friends and family. It’s important to socialize with other people, even when you don’t necessarily feel like it. Avoid isolating yourself, as this could cause you to engage in behaviors that make your depression worse.

  • Focus on gradual improvements. Depression does get better, but it doesn’t happen in a single day. Focus on gradual improvements in your moods, levels of energy and other depression symptoms.


While you’re recovering, try to focus on effective self-care. Even small, simple things can make a big difference when it comes to your mood, thoughts and overall well-being.

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Learn More About Mental Health

Depression is a serious mental illness, and it’s important to pay attention to the early signs that it’s starting to develop. These could be changes in your mood, a loss of interest in your hobbies or just difficulty staying focused at school.

If you’re in your teens and think you may be depressed, don’t feel afraid to reach out for help by talking to a family member of your primary care provider. If you’re above the age of 18, you can also seek help using our online mental health services

Want to learn more about caring for your mental health? Our free mental health resources and content share simple, effective strategies that you can use to deal with common concerns and issues such as depression, anxiety and stress.

8 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Major Depression. (2022, January). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression
  2. Recognizing teen depression. (2020, November 7). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000648.htm
  3. Depression. (2018, February). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression
  4. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
  5. Teen Depression. (2022, February 4). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/teendepression.html
  6. Sheffler, Z.M. & Abdijadid, S. (2021, November 14). Antidepressants. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538182/
  7. How Much Sleep Do I Need? (2017, March 2). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
  8. Novotney, A. (2019, May). The risks of social isolation. Monitor on Psychology. 50 (5), 32. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2019/05/ce-corner-isolation

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

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