How To Help With Teenage Depression 2023: Diagnosis & Treatment

Reviewed by Elizabeth Gonzalez Cueto, MD

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how to help with teenage depression

The physical changes that come with puberty, on top of the emotional upheaval of leaving childhood behind, can be very challenging for teenagers.

The occasional bout of melancholy or irritability in your adolescence is very typical. However, depression may be present when such actions become routine or continue for an extended period.

As the World Health Organization[1] reported, one in seven teenagers between the ages of 10 and 19 worldwide suffers from a mental health condition, representing 13% of the global disease burden in this demographic. Teens’ mental health is in crisis, with depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems topping the list of causes of sickness and disability.

Even though a better diagnosis alone is unlikely to make a big difference in how well a child does, recognizing that a teenager has depression is the first step to better depression treatment. It affects 2% of kids before they reach puberty and 5-8% of teens. The disease can cause anything from sadness to major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. Studies have shown that 3-9% of teenagers meet the criteria for depression at any given time, and by the end of adolescence, as many as 20% of teenagers report a lifetime prevalence of depression 

Effects Of Depression

Depression in teens can make it hard for them to make friends, get along with their families, and do well in school, which can have serious long-term effects. Teenagers with depression are more likely to end up in the hospital, have more depression, have trouble with their relationships, drink too much, and act badly as they get older. Of course, suicide, which is the third leading cause of death among older teens, is the most tragic result of teen depression 

Even though depression is extremely treatable, few depressed teens ever seek help.  As a parent, you can help your teenager with depression pull themselves out of their melancholy and move forward with their lives.

How Does Mental Health Affect Teens?

Mental health conditions increase school dissatisfaction, absence, and suspension or expulsion. Poor concentration, distractibility, inability to remember information, peer interactions and aggressive behavior hinder their learning.

Symptoms Of Teen Depression

Symptoms of depression in teens differ from those experienced by adults. Because teen depression can look like the typical mood swings of adolescence or teenage angst, it is sometimes overlooked until a crisis occurs, such as attempted suicide or reckless behavior.

Teenage patients are said to have unipolar major depression (major depressive disorder) if they have had at least one major depressive episode but have never had mania or hypomania. A major depressive episode is a period of at least two weeks with five or more of the following symptoms: low mood, lack of interest or pleasure, trouble sleeping or too much sleep, change in appetite or weight, slowness or agitation in moving or thinking, low energy, trouble focusing, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and frequent thoughts of death or suicide. Also, the symptoms must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in functioning, and the syndrome cannot be caused by the physiological effects of a substance (like drug abuse or medications) or another medical condition (eg, hypothyroidism).

 If you’re worried your teen may be depressed, keep an eye out for these signs.

  • The feeling of anger and frustration
  • Getting lower marks
  • Struggle to focus
  • Fatigue
  • Self-criticisms
  • The effects of excessive or inadequate sleep
  • Hate of physical structure
  • Bringing up the subject of suicide or death
  • Withdrawal from social contacts

If your child exhibits more than two or three of these behaviors for a long duration of time, then it’s best to seek out a mental health professional.

how to help with teenage depression

Types Of Depression

Those suffering from depression may experience many symptoms. The doctor may use one or even more specific terms to explain the exact form of depression your teen is experiencing. Below are some types of depression.

Anxious distress

If your teen has difficulties focusing because they are constantly on edge, restless, and worried that something terrible might happen to them, they may be dealing with anxiety.

Melancholic features

Your teen may feel sad and uninterested in what they usually look forward to doing. They are unhappy no matter how good things get for them.

Even if they claim they aren’t hungry, it’s important to help your teen get a good breakfast in the morning when their sad mood is likely to be at its greatest.

Atypical features

Unlike the most common type of depression, this one doesn’t involve feeling sad all the time.

Used as a “specifier,” it defines a subset of depression’s symptoms. A good thing can temporarily improve the mood of a person with atypical depression.

You can get depression treatment if your teen suffers from this type of depression.

Course of Illness

Studies have found that the average length of depressive episodes in teens with major depression who were seen in a clinic ranged from four to nine months, and that 90% of the episodes went away within two years. People who got better after the episode had at least one recurrence 20–70% of the time. Teens who have major depression are more likely to have depression as adults than teens who don’t have depression.

Other disorders that cause depression symptoms

Apart from the above-listed types of depression, your teen may suffer from other depression types. Some of them are

Disorder of dysregulated mood states

This can start as a childhood mood disorder marked by frequent bouts of anger and impatience.

Mood disorders often worsen during the teen years and lead to major depression or anxiety.

PMDD refers to premenstrual dysphoric disorder

Hormonal fluctuations can cause depressive symptoms a week before menstruation and subside a few days after the period begins. After your period stops, your symptoms should lessen or disappear altogether.

Bipolar I and II

If your teen seems to be going through extreme highs and lows, these could be signs of depression or other mental health conditions. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between bipolar illness and just plain depression.

Causes Of Teen Depression

There are numerous causes of depression in teenagers. We will discuss the major causes of depression in teenagers below.

 It’s important to get your child to see a mental health professional when you notice them exhibiting any of the symptoms of depression mentioned above.


Peer bullying may be quite upsetting for teenagers and hurt your teen’s self-worth. For some, this may be the final straw that sends them into despair.

Other mental and physical health conditions

Teen depression is often accompanied by other mental health issues such as anorexia, eating disorders, self-injury, anxiety, sleep patterns, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and learning impairments. 

These issues may cause your teen to feel self-conscious at school and in social situations. Physical impairments or ongoing health problems may also play a part.

 Past and present stressful experiences

The ability to cope with adversity is underdeveloped in most children. The effects of trauma are not easily forgotten.

Losing a parent or being abused physically, emotionally, or sexually as a child can have long-term effects on the developing brain and increase the risk of depression later in life.

 Lack of social support

Depression is more likely to develop in children who do not feel they have the emotional support of their family or peers.

 Your child may have these problems if people around them are mean to them or reject them because of their sexual orientation, race, or physical impairment.

How To Help With Teenage Depression

Depression can cause serious harm if left untreated, so it’s important to pay attention to warning signs. Try to talk to your teenager about your concerns calmly if you think your teen is depressed, and listen carefully to your child.

 Encourage social connection

When a teen is depressed, they spend less time with their friends, which makes them feel even worse.

Relationships that provide emotional and physical support are important for everyone, but they are especially crucial for depressed children who may feel alone and separated.

  • Make face time a priority

Make time every day to have a conversation with your kid. Make sure there are no outside influences during this time spent with your teen.

Face-to-face interaction can have a significant impact on your adolescent’s mood. Keep in mind that having a conversation with your teen about depression or their feelings will not make things worse, but you can encourage your teen to talk more about it, which could make a world of difference in their road to recovery.

  • Combat social isolation

Your child will benefit from maintaining social connections at any cost. Get your family involved in community events that allow your youngster to interact with other children.

For example, you can persuade them to hang out with their pals or host a get-together.

Try to reduce their social media use

Tell your child that online communication isn’t a replacement for real-life relationships. When face-to-face communication, work, and going to bed are more important, it is best to discourage people from using electronic devices.

  • Get your teen involved

Get creative and help your child discover their passions by suggesting extracurricular activities like sports, clubs, or lessons in art, dance, or music. At first, your adolescent may lack desire and interest, but as they re-engage with the world, they should begin to feel better and rediscover their excitement.

  • Promote volunteerism

Helping others is a great mood elevator and confidence builder because it can help with depression. Your teen will benefit from finding a meaningful way to contribute to the world, so help them find a way. You can strengthen your relationship with them while doing something good for the community.

Make Physical Health A Priority

There is no disconnect between one’s physical and mental well-being. Inactivity, lack of sleep, and poor diet all contribute to the severity of depression.

 Teenagers are known for making bad choices like spending too much time in front of a screen, not eating well, and going to parties late at night.

 But as a parent, you can encourage them to live healthier lives and avoid other health problems. 

Get your teen moving

Regardless of the obstacles, do what you can to encourage your adolescents’ physical activity. At least an hour of physical activity every day is recommended for teenagers, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring or unpleasant.

 Please don’t limit yourself to traditional forms of exercise; anything that gets them up and moving, such as walking the dog, dancing, shooting hoops, going on a hike, riding bikes, or skateboarding, is good.

Set limits on screen time

The problem is that teens who spend more time in front of screens are less likely to engage in healthy activities or socialize in person with their peers. As a result of both, symptoms will get worse. 

Encourage your teen to limit screen usage and spend more time with you and other family members. Show others the way by limiting your own screen time.

 Provide nutritious, and balanced meals

Ensure your child gets a balanced diet with healthy fats, quality protein, and fresh produce, ensuring optimal brain health and mood support.

 Many unhappy teenagers want to eat sugary and starchy foods for a quick “pick me up,” but this can have the opposite effect on their mood and energy levels in the long run.

Encourage plenty of sleep

It is recommended that adolescents get 9-10 hours of sleep per night. Ensure your adolescent is getting enough sleep and isn’t letting sleep deprivation affect their mental health.

Know when to seek professional help

If your teen is depressed and you have done all you can to support and encourage them to get better, you don’t see them improving, or their mental health seems to be worsening. You might want to schedule an appointment with a doctor.

Involve your child in treatment choices

Always consult your teen before making important treatment decisions, including which specialist to see and which therapies to try. If you want your teen to be committed to and involved in their treatment, you shouldn’t ignore what they want or make decisions without talking to them first. 

There is no such thing as a “magic therapist,” and there is no treatment that is guaranteed to help everyone. You might want to consider getting your teen to a different doctor or therapist if they aren’t comfortable there.

Explore your options

If your teen suffers from depression, the doctor you choose to treat them will likely want to discuss treatment options with you.

 Talk therapy is frequently effective for mild to moderate depression as a first treatment. Your adolescent’s depression may lift with the help of counseling. Medical intervention may be necessary if this doesn’t work.

Sadly, some parents are pressured into giving their children antidepressants instead of therapeutic help because anti-depressants are faster and cheaper than therapy.

It is best to choose therapy as a method to help your teen. Unless your child is suicidal, medication and constant supervision are your best options.

The medication comes with risks

Antidepressants were made and tested on adults, so not much is known about how they affect young brains that are still growing. Some scientists have found a link between drugs like Prozac and changes in normal brain development, especially in the parts of the brain that control stress and emotions. Scientists have found a link between drugs like Prozac and changes in normal brain development, especially in the parts of the brain that control stress and emotions.

Some safety concerns are unique to children and teens when taking antidepressants, and these drugs also have risks and side effects.

They have also been linked to a rise in the number of teens and young adults who think about or try to kill themselves. Teenagers with bipolar disorder, who have a family history of the disorder, or who have tried to kill themselves in the past are more likely to do it again.

What therapy works best for teenagers?

Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) is usually used to treat teens with a wide range of mental illnesses, including but not limited to anxiety, anorexia, and depression.

Choosing the first treatment for a child or teen with acute depression depends on the severity and length of the illness, the presence of agitation, psychosis, suicidal and homicidal ideation, and behavior, as well as comorbidities (such as anxiety and substance use disorders), the patient’s age and functioning (such as family conflict and school problems), the number of previous depressive episodes, and the response to and adherence with previous treatment. Other things to think about are side effects, the availability of different treatment options, the patient’s and family’s preferences (including how they weigh the risks and benefits of therapy), the clinician’s preferences, and how familiar they are with the different treatment options, and the cost.

Things To Avoid

Remember that no one chooses to be depressed, and it can happen to anyone. Your teenager is in a difficult position, so try not to push them over by doing these things.

Criticism & punishment

If your child keeps getting bad grades and doesn’t do their homework, you might put them on probation, limit their screen time, or take away their smartphone.

The effects of sadness differ from the effects of real wrongdoing, but depression is not an excuse for bad behavior. Isolating them by taking away their smartphones or other social connections could worsen matters.

You can assure them that you share their struggle and urge them to keep trying. Reassure them of your undying affection and support.

 Judging self-harming behaviors

Finding out your teen has begun self-injury through cutting or other means can be extremely upsetting. Although self-harm is never something to be ignored, it may not always be a sign that your child has suicidal thoughts.

Your first thought might be to clean out their room of anything they could use to hurt themselves, check their body every day, or keep a close eye on them at all times. However, such replies usually embarrass and alienate your teen.

Instead, ask them how they are feeling and what you can do to make them better.

Taking things personally

Even if your child is making progress in therapy, they may not always be comfortable discussing those developments with you. It’s natural to be curious about their progress, but remember that forcing them to talk won’t make them more at ease.

You should tell your doctor if the treatment has any unwanted side effects or if you keep having bad thoughts. Keep in mind that you’re available anytime they feel like talking, but let them do it at their own pace.

When is it Time For Immediate Help?

Medication, talk therapy, or a hybrid of the two can all help depressed teens. You and your teen’s mental health expert can create a customized treatment plan. Children and adolescents who are actively suicidal should be evaluated for possible hospitalization.


When something is wrong with your teen, you know it because you know your teen best. You should broach the subject of depression treatment if they consistently display a depressed mood or irritability.

Most importantly, stress that you are on their side and will do what it takes to win them over. They may dismiss you, but they still take in your words.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main causes of teenage depression?

Depression in teens can be caused by several risk factors and triggering situations. Problems with academics, friendships, peer interactions, or weight can lower self-esteem. Physical, sexual, or both types of abuse are traumatic.

What are the most common signs of teenage depression?

Sadness, irritability, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, and low energy are signs of depression in teens. It’s dangerous to feel worthless or gloomy about the future. A reduction in grades or problems concentrating at school might also be a symptom.

Which teenager has a higher risk for depression?

Depression is more common in teens with chronic diseases, mental health disorders, or traumatic brain injuries.

How can teens avoid stress?

Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, making time for fun, and discussing their problems with a trusted person.

What is the best treatment for a depressed teen?

 Therapy is the best treatment for a depressed teen because antidepressants can negatively affect your teen’s health.

Why are so many teens stressed?

Connective ties between people, whether platonic or romantic. Changes in routine can happen when a person finishes high school, moves start college, or starts working.

+ 1 sources

MIDSS adheres to strict procurement guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutes, and medical associations. We work mainly with peer-reviewed studies to ensure the accuracy of the information. We avoid the use of tertiary references. You can read about how we ensure the accuracy and timeliness of our content in our editorial process.

  1. World (2021). Adolescent mental health. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Nov. 2022].


Abigeal Olorunfemi, Health Writer
Expert Health Writer
My name is Abigeal, I am a native English speaker from the United States with seven years of professional health blogging experience. In that time, I've written hundreds of health and wellness blog posts that have gained social media attention. With 7+ years of health writing experience, I am ecstatic to help you learn more information about health.


Elizabeth Gonzalez Cueto, MD
Medical Doctor & Medical Writer
My name is Elizabeth and I am a Medical Doctor (MBBS) with experience as a medical and research article writer, reviewer and proofreader. I have worked for the American Journal of Case Reports, the Medical Science Monitor, and Pacific Medical Training as a medical article reviewer and writer. Besides, I have worked as a medical interpreter and translator for Angel City research and SC3 Research group as a medical research assistant for several clinical trials. My academic background includes many international scientific environments like Oxford University, United Kingdom. Hannover Medical School, the University of Tours, France. the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico.