Dr. Samantha Brustad
Navigating Clinical Depression In Teens: What Parents Need To Know
As a parent, you always want to see your children happy and thriving. Teenagers can be notorious for having volatile moods that are difficult to understand. When isolated rough days turn into a regular occurrence for your teenager, you may find yourself lost as to how to help them.
Clinical depression in teens is a rising problem in the United States, which can lead to continued problems later in life if left untreated. While not every instance of a bad mood or change in behavior is a sign of clinical depression, there are several signs which often go unchecked.
At Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness, we are a group of therapists and psychologists in the St. Petersburg and Tampa area, specializing in mental health and wellness services for children, teenagers, and young adults. If you believe your teenager may be struggling with depression, reach out to us for a consultation to start the process of helping your teenager heal.
In the article below, we’ll be exploring the roots of clinical depression in teens, followed by a deep dive into potential signs of depression and some tips on how to help. We recommend reaching out to a mental health professional to maximize the support your child receives.
Clinical Depression in Teens: By the Numbers
Clinical depression is a serious mental illness that affects millions of people, including teenagers. According to Mental Health America, an estimated 3.9 million adolescents in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in 2022. That figure is equivalent to over 15% of the US youth population, meaning nearly 1 in 6 teens may suffer from depression.
Diagnosing pediatric depression is critical to preventing depression later in adulthood. Despite this, up to 60% of youths may go untreated entirely. It is critical to watch your teens for signs of depression, as quick, professional responses are the greatest way to achieve a good outcome.
Additionally, clinical depression in teens is skewed to disproportionally affect teens who identify with more than one race. The rate of severe major depressive disorder in teens belonging to multiple races was estimated to be around 14.5%, compared to 10% for the overall population.
Signs of Clinical Depression in Teens
Distinguishing between typical moodiness and clinical depression in teens can be tricky. Warning signs of depression manifest themselves in a variety of different ways, and repeated instances of these depression symptoms may signal a need for additional action. Even if you feel confident in your ability to read your teenager’s mood, sometimes just checking in with them can provide some peace of mind.
Mood Changes as Signs of Clinical Depression in Teens
Persistent Sadness or Hopelessness
Teens experiencing clinical depression may appear despondent or hopeless for extended periods. They may also express feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or helplessness.
Irritability or Anger
If you find your teenager reacting with excessive anger or frustration, especially in situations where their reactions appear disproportional to the issue at hand, it may be a sign of depression.
Thoughts of Self-Harm or Suicide
Major depression in teens can lead to thoughts of self-harm or suicide. If your teen is talking about suicide or engaging in risky behaviors, take it seriously and seek immediate help.
Physical Symptoms of Depression
Major depressive disorder is a mental disorder, but many parents miss the signs of physical symptoms in their children. Persistent physical symptoms that cannot be explained medically can be a critical sign of clinical depression in teens, especially when paired with mental symptoms.
Teenagers suffering from depression often experience a lack of energy while becoming more easily fatigued. Depression may also cause headaches, stomach aches, and difficulties with concentration and memory.
Changes to Your Teen’s Routines
A child’s teenage years are a period of big changes, but sudden, drastic shifts in a teenager’s routine may be a sign of depression.
Changes to Hobbies and Activities
Teenagers can drop hobbies and pick up new ones on a whim, but a withdrawal from activities entirely could be a sign of something more serious at play. If your teen has stopped playing a sport, gone long periods without spending time with friends, or they spend days on end stuck in their room, it may be time to consider depression as the cause.
Shifts in Appetite
Your teenager’s eating habits can serve as a canary in the coal mine for a lingering depressive episode. Depending on your child, either excessive overeating or a complete lack of appetite can be present as part of a clinical depressive episode.
The Effects of Clinical Depression on a Teen’s Sleep Cycle
As parents, you may have experienced your teen staying up all night studying for a huge test, or perhaps you have tried in vain to wake your teenager up on the weekend until well after lunchtime.
While small, isolated changes to your teenager’s sleep cycle may be harmless, consistent chaos to their sleep routines may be a sign of clinical depression. Nightmares or the inability to get a consistent night’s sleep could also be a factor.
Even tiny tweaks to a child’s sleep schedule can cause a snowball effect that can ultimately exacerbate the effects of major depressive disorder
How to Help Your Depressed Teenager
If you believe your teenager may be suffering from clinical depression, it is critical to begin to support them in any way you can. Providing a supportive environment for your teenager will help them along their journey, maximizing the potential for a good outcome.
It is important to remember that depression is a complex illness, so try not to blame yourself as a parent. Focus on supporting your child and seeking appropriate treatment with a licensed Psychiatrist or Therapist.
Talking to Your Teenager
Maintaining an open line of communication with your teenager is crucial to fostering a loving environment in your family. Teenagers may not always be willing to express themselves, so it is important to provide emotional support for your teenager
Encourage your teen to share their thoughts and feelings and make sure to listen actively. Acknowledge your child's feelings and let them know that it is okay to feel sad or anxious without judging them. Your teenager will best feel emotionally supported if you can remain present in their lives, especially when they need it the most.
Good Habits to Help Depressed Teens
Ask any seasoned parent, and they’ll tell you getting a teenager to do anything is a long, uphill battle. With anhedonia, a lack of pleasure, being one of the central signs of depression, cultivating healthy habits in your teenager may be even more difficult. Focusing on a few areas, with the help of your teenager, can start to provide them some comfort as they begin to tackle depression.
Of course, the tips below apply even if your teenager isn’t suffering from clinical depression, as these habits can serve to foster a stronger, healthier parent-child relationship. Every child will have their own hobbies and interests, so be sure to take into account their unique personalities when planning new activities.
Dietary Considerations for Clinical Depression in Teens
The National Institute of Mental Health has identified dietary factors which may play a part in a person’s mood. Processed foods and sugar-heavy snacks can cause higher levels of inflammation, which may lead to an increased risk of depression.
It is important to consult with mental health professionals or dietitians before making sweeping changes to a person’s diet, however. Suddenly eliminating your child’s favorite snack may exacerbate any depressive symptoms, so it is critical to only consider introducing healthier foods with your teenager’s permission.
In addition to cutting back on sugary snacks, introducing or increasing Omega-3 fatty acids and supplementing with multivitamins may also help your teenager manage depressive symptoms in conjunction with professional mental health care.
Mindfulness and Self-Care
Self-care can be an overlooked way to help raise your teenager’s mood. Encouraging your child to partake in mindfulness activities like meditation, journaling, and deep breathing can help them manage overwhelming life situations.
Your teenager can greatly benefit from activities like drawing a warm bath, cooking their favorite meal, or a planned family outing can help strengthen your connection while also serving to lift their mood.
Fostering Hobbies and Passions
Sometimes, your teenager would most strongly benefit from simply feeling supported by you as a parent. Major depression in teens can cause them to stop participating in the things they enjoy the most in life, but you have the ability as a parent to gently encourage their hobbies.
Showing interest in your teenager’s life provides them an outlet to maintain an open line of communication with you. Your teenager may find themselves judged by their peers for their interests or hobbies, so allowing them the space to pursue their goals and dreams without judgment serves as a great help.
Seeking Professional Help for Your Depressed Teenager
Mental health professionals are trained in diagnosing and treating depressive disorders, and they offer the best means of managing clinical depression in teens. Contacting a psychiatrist or therapist will provide the greatest evaluation for your teenager, allowing them to receive the exact help they may need.
Psychiatrists can prescribe medications if needed, and working with a mental health professional allows a teenager to remain supported throughout their journey with depression.
If your teenager is showing signs of clinical depression and you aren’t sure of the best way to proceed, consider reaching out to us here at Balanced Minds! We have a team of therapists in the St. Petersburg area specializing in helping children and teens with all of life’s challenges, including major depressive disorder.
Final Thoughts on Clinical Depression in Teens
The signs of clinical depression in teens can get lost among the typical moodiness of most teenagers. Discerning the symptoms of your child is difficult without professional help, but sustained changes in your teenager’s habits and mood changes may serve as a sign that you should reach out for help.
Major depression in teens can often go undiagnosed or untreated, so it’s important to act to help your child as soon as possible. Failure to help may lead to a persistent depressive disorder into adulthood. Professional help will be the best avenue, but be sure to provide a welcoming home atmosphere for your teenager, as encouraging positive habits and providing emotional support can help reduce the worst symptoms of depression.
If you or your teenager need professional support with clinical depression, feel free to reach out to us for a complimentary phone consultation. We are committed to providing a safe and supportive environment that helps your teenager along their journey.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 911 or contact the following resources for support:
If you are concerned your teen is struggling with depression, please reach out to Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness for a free consultation on how therapy may be a good next step.