How to Spot Depression in A Teenager

Mar 30, 2021 | Mental Health, Depression

Depression is increasingly common among children, teenagers, and young adults. Unfortunately, the general symptoms of depression in teenagers can be misinterpreted as typical adolescent behavior. For instance, teenagers are generally moody and withdrawn. When a once happy and inviting child becomes withdrawn, you can turn a blind eye and interpret it as a demand for privacy. You can easily mistake persistent and insidious sadness as normal teenage mood swings. Isolation can be mistaken for staying away from embarrassing adults.

Similarly, disinterest in previously enjoyed activities can be normative for outgrown desires. The list goes on. Low self-esteem is common among teenagers given their body changes. With pimples, breaking voices, and struggles with relationships, the adolescent period can become quite awkward. In addition, their reluctance to communicate can make depression or suicidal thoughts difficult to spot.

What exactly should you look for in teenagers to spot depression?

The most common symptoms of depression are a persistent depressed mood, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, a loss of interest in activities, isolation, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts. Aside from these typical depressive symptoms, depression in teenagers is often accompanied by disruptive behavioral changes. Some of these behavioral changes are listed below.


The first category of disruptive behavior is inattention. Teens that are depressed often become increasingly distracted and forgetful. They may struggle to get things done and have difficulty focusing and concentrating. They may also begin to demonstrate a low tolerance for frustration. Their thoughts are disorganized due to a lack of focus. The disorganization is often evident in their school performance. Unfinished school assignments or forgotten chores top up the list of signs. It is not that they are lazy. It is just that they have a short attention span due to their depression.

Agitation and Impulsivity

Teens who are depressed often feel agitated. They may appear restless and on edge. They are easily angered, irritable, and very impatient. The teenager may have trouble self-regulating. They often act on impulse because they are extremely sensitive. They have trouble controlling their feelings. The teenager will overreact, lash out in anger, cry, and frequently cause a scene over small issues. They have intense pent-up emotions leading them to explode over small triggers.

Oppositionality and Defiance

Some Teenagers who are depressed become more oppositional and defiant. Because they feel hopeless, they begin to express an “I don’t care” attitude. They may begin to skip school and quit caring about their grades. Some begin to act out sexually or begin to use alcohol and drugs.

Social Isolation

Social withdrawal is also common in teenage depression. It is often a consequence of low self-worth and deep-seated insecurities. Teenagers stay away from friends and loved ones because they feel like they do not measure up. According to the teenager, nobody notices their existence, and they cannot meet their social expectations. Therefore, they isolate and ruminate over their failures. Poor self-image may push teenagers to entertain suicidal thoughts, self-harm, or commit suicide. They may also vengefully attack the source of their misery.

Suicidal Ideation

According to research, suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers. Studies also show that suicidal ideation and attempts are higher in the adolescent age group compared to other age groups. Therefore, suicidal tendencies are a significant symptom of teen depression. Signs include verbalizing thoughts of suicide, self-harm marks, withdrawal, agitation and distress, and change in eating and sleeping patterns.

Changing Eating and Sleeping Habits

Depression alters the body’s sleeping patterns. If the teenager sleeps for long periods or is suffering from a lack of sleep, depression could very well be the cause. Too much sleep causes them to miss school and other important appointments and events. Lack of sleep causes fatigue, low concentration, and irritability.

As for eating, the teenagers’ appetite may increase due to a hormonal trigger causing what is called emotional eating. They may also avoid food because their anxiety and depression suppress their appetite.

New Dimensions Can Help!

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.

Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit to learn more.