“You’re a teenager. That’s normal.”
“It’s just a phase.”
“You’ll grow out of it.”
A lot of parents might pass off their teen’s symptoms of depression as a phase, or they may assume that it’s a normal part of development.
After all, the majority of adults can recall experiencing dark thoughts or periods of sadness during their teenage years. Some adults assume that teenagers shouldn’t be depressed since they don’t have to worry about adult issues, like paying bills or running a household. However, if you or someone you know is showing signs of depression for longer than two weeks at a time, it could be more than just the ordinary moodiness.
Teenagers aren’t immune to stress and depression. As a teenager, navigating the world can feel difficult and confusing. You’re trying to juggle school, friends, and finding your sense of self. You might also be dealing with peer pressure, academic expectations, and hormonal fluctuations. Life can feel like a high-powered rollercoaster. For teens dealing with depression, all these stressful life events can contribute to depression.
You’re not alone, either—about 1 in 20 teens will experience an episode of Major Depression. As time goes on, girls tend to show higher rates of depression at nearly double the rate. That’s why it’s so important to reach out to your support system—friends, family, trusted teachers and coaches—if you’re beginning to feel overwhelmed with life events.
Although guys and girls both suffer from depression, there are notable differences in certain symptoms. Read on to recognize warning signs and how gender plays a role.
Universal Symptoms of Teen Depression
When anxiety and depression lead to a tornado of emotions, you might notice some changes in your emotions, daily habits, or behaviors. In your teenage years, irritability is often a more common symptom of depression than sadness. Pay attention to the physical changes, which could signal depression.
Emotional Warning Signs
- A persistent feeling of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason.
- Loss of interest in things that you used to enjoy doing, like favorite hobbies, sports, or hanging out with friends.
- Poor school performance or frequent absences from school.
- Frustration or angry outbursts, even over small issues.
- Irritability or annoyance, even over small issues.
- Feelings of emptiness or hopelessness.
- Conflict with family and friends.
- Social isolation, like withdrawing from social activities or events that you used to look forward to.
- Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
- Brain fog, or trouble remembering things.
- Fixation on past failures, and feeling like you’re getting nowhere in life.
- Exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism, and feeling like you aren’t living up to expectations.
- Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance.
- Feelings of hopelessness, or an ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak.
Physical Warning Signs
- Not caring about your personal hygiene or appearance.
- Eating more than usual, or loss of appetite.
- Sleeping more than usual, or not sleeping as much.
- Agitation or restlessness—for instance, pacing, wringing your hands, or not being able to sit still.
- Unexplained physical ailments, like body aches and headaches.
- Slowed speaking or body movements.
Behavioral Warning Signs
- Drug or alcohol use.
- Self-harm and self-injury, like cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing.
- Frequent thoughts of death, dying, or suicide.
- Making a suicide plan or a suicide attempt.
Common Symptoms of Depression in Guys
Though guys and girls both experience depression, it can present itself differently across genders. This is likely due to the difference in the way guys and girls process emotional stimuli. Here are some red flags to look out for.
- Depression or fatigue, especially in the morning.
- Feeling listlessness.
- Feeling restless or on edge.
- Acting out, like punching walls.
- Putting yourself in dangerous situations, like getting into physical fights.
- Persistent feelings of irritability, and losing your temper quickly.
- Self-harm, like cutting or burning yourself.
- Anhedonia, or loss of pleasure.
- Running away, or talking about it.
- Withdrawal from activities that you used to enjoy doing.
- Trouble with sleeping, like insomnia or sleeping more than usual.
- Thinking about death, dying, or suicide.
If you notice these symptoms, get help immediately. Reach out to your friends, family, or a trusted adult. It’s important to get help, especially considering the fact that four times more males die from suicide than females, even though more suicide attempts are made by females.
Common Symptoms of Depression in Girls
Anxiety and depression happen to girls and guys, but by your mid-teens, girls are more than twice as likely as boys to be diagnosed with depression.
Why is this?
Experts think that this is due to the differences in the ways that girls and guys process their emotions. When it comes to emotional recognition and sensitivity, girls mature faster than guys. Throughout the history of humankind, women have played the role of caregivers, while men played the role of hunter-gatherers. As a girl, you may be hard-wired for faster emotional development because your female ancestors had to nurture their babies from a relatively young age. Even though women play a different role in society today, this gendered difference means you could be more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
Look out for these symptoms of depression, which tend to happen more frequently in girls:
- Feelings of sadness, especially for long periods of time.
- Frequent crying spells.
- Social isolation.
- Feeling guilty or shameful for things that happened a long time ago.
- Wanting to punish yourself, like by withholding food or exercising excessively.
- Having a low sense of self-worth, or feelings of worthlessness.
- Engaging in risky sexual behaviors, which can be tied to low self-esteem.
- Having low energy or fatigue.
- Asthenia, or not feeling like you can enjoy anything.
- Feeling hopeless about the present or future, and lacking the motivation to do well in school.
- Difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
- Negative body image, and excessive fixation on the appearance of specific parts of your body.
- Self-harm, including cutting or burning yourself.
Treating Teen Depression
For most teens with depression, you can relieve your symptoms through a variety of ways, including a combination of multiple strategies.
- Lifestyle changes. For mild cases of depression, you can try managing your stress through getting regular sleep, daily physical exercise, using relaxation techniques, and building a stronger social support system.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help you identify unhealthy or negative thought patterns and replace them with more positive and effective thoughts.
- Medication. Some of the most common types of antidepressants include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). These medications help regulate mood by preventing your body from absorbing neurotransmitters like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
While only a qualified medical or mental health provider can diagnose depression, these are all red flags that can help you identify depression before it gets out of hand.
According to the World Health Organization, “half of all people who develop mental disorders have their first symptoms by the age of 14.” Teens who have been anxious since childhood may have created a lifestyle built around their anxieties, which makes it more challenging to treat the longer you live with it. It’s a real medical condition that can affect your life in every way, if left untreated.
Unfortunately, not every teen suffering from depression actually gets help. If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself, or even in one of your friends, it’s important to get help. Don’t write it off as “just a phase”—depression isn’t a condition that people can “snap out of,” or simply “cheer up” from. No matter if you’re a guy or a girl, teen depression isn’t something that you can overcome with willpower, all on your own.
While getting support can be daunting, it can really help you to manage depression. The sooner this happens, the sooner you can start feeling more like yourself again.