Adolescent Depression Causes, Symptoms & Signs

The signs of adolescent depression can often be difficult to identify. Once an individual identifies the symptoms and side effects of adolescent depression, the next step in the recovery journey become clear.

Understanding Adolescent Depression

Learn about adolescent depression

It is widely known that adult men and women can suffer from depression, but adolescent boys and girls are also vulnerable to grappling with this sort of mental illness too. Known clinically as depressive disorder, there are many forms of depression that can impact a teen’s life, so it is important for a youth to be formally assessed by a professional so that a proper diagnosis can be given and care can be implemented as soon as possible.

Teens battling depression will often display symptoms similar to that of what an adult may show when suffering from this sort of mental health concern. Periods of sadness, tearfulness, sleeping a lot or very little, eating a lot or very little, weight changes, declined participation and interest in activities that were once considered fun, loss of energy, and thoughts of death are but a handful of symptoms that an adolescent may present with while experiencing an episode of depression. However, unlike adults, bouts of sadness may actually manifest as extreme irritability that can be quite difficult to manage without effective coping skills and adequate support.

Once a teen begins receiving treatment for depression, he or she can learn to manage this disorder with greater ease. Though for those who continue to suffer from the symptoms and effects of depression, being able to carry on without experiencing the worsening of symptoms can be an exercise in futility. Many young people begin self-harming, battling suicidal ideation, or suffering from another mental health condition or substance abuse problem when depression symptoms continue unabated. Given these outcomes, it is crucial for an adolescent who displays symptoms synonymous with depression to begin appropriate services in a timely manner.


Adolescent depression statistics

The National Comorbidity Survey, which was a study done to examine rates of depression and other such illnesses among those in the American population, concluded that over 14% of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 have suffered from depression at some point in their lives. Additionally, this same study also reported that this mental disorder is diagnosed in more adolescent females than males. Furthermore, the National Institute of Mental Health, or NIMH, found that more than two million teens have suffered at least one episode of depression within one year’s time.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for adolescent depression

Experts who have conducted research on depression believe that certain factors and influences can make some teens more vulnerable to suffering from depression than others. The following explanations for why a person may come to battle depression are those that are widely agreed upon by mental health professionals and other respected experts in the field of mental health:

Genetic: A substantial amount of research has reported that mental health conditions like depression are heritable. For example, if a teen has a first-degree relative with this illness, there is an increased risk for that adolescent to also experience this disorder.

Environmental: The environment in which one spends most of his or her time can trigger the onset of depression symptoms or make them worse depending on the circumstances of the individual. Adolescents who lack effective coping skills and support from loved ones, peers, and others are more likely to experience a depressive episode or episodes if they are exposed to trauma, overwhelming stress, violence, or other detrimental situations. Additionally, if a youth is unable to achieve to his or her potential or experiences emotional pain that is seemingly unmanageable, depression symptoms may become apparent.

Risk Factors:

  • Being female
  • Family history of depression
  • Experiencing trauma
  • Personal history of substance use
  • Having a chronic or life-threatening illness
  • Being the victim of abuse or a crime
  • Poverty

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of adolescent depression

The telltale warning signs that a teen is battling depression can vary. Depending on type of depressive disorder that is present, as well as the severity of symptoms that are occurring, close friends, family members, and other loved ones may not be able to discern whether or not an adolescent is battling depression. If you are wondering if a teen in your life is in need of help to manage this sort of illness, it would be beneficial to note any of the following symptoms and seek an assessment for services with a reputable treatment provider:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Tearfulness
  • Complaints of headaches, stomachaches, and/or joint pain
  • Angry outbursts and attempts to blame others
  • Social withdrawal
  • Slowed speech and/or decrease in volume, amount, and inflection
  • Neglect of pleasurable activities
  • Precipitous drop in academic performance

Physical symptoms:

  • Stomachaches
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Weight changes
  • Generalized pain in muscles and joints
  • Fatigue without physical exertion
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Changes in appetite
  • Headaches

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Distractibility
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Poor concentration
  • Indecisiveness

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of shame
  • Profound sadness


Effects of adolescent depression

Depression is a serious mental illness that can significantly impact a teen’s life. Especially if the symptoms present are severe, failing to receive treatment can signify the inception of adverse events that can damage an adolescent’s life. For this reason, it is imperative to assist a young person in getting treatment for depression so that the following effects can be avoided:

  • Strained relationships with others
  • Substance abuse which could lead to addiction
  • Academic failure
  • Onset of health problems
  • Demise of meaningful relationships
  • Onset of self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts
  • Onset of certain other mental health concerns
  • Social isolation
  • Injury as a result of risky behaviors

Co-Occurring Disorders

Adolescent depression and co-occurring disorders

It is quite common for other mental health disorders to accompany depression symptoms. Given this fact, adolescents who begin receiving services for depression will be assessed to determine if any of the following disorders are present at the same time:

  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Anorexia nervosa
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The doctors and nurses at Riverview Behavioral Health recognized the unique problems of my child.  They provided treatment that put her back on the right track.

– Parent of a former patient