Anyone who has experienced depression knows that it can affect your everyday life, and can have serious consequences. This is especially true for teens. Teens are considered to be highly susceptible to depression. Depression can lead to prolonged suffering that can impact them well into adulthood. The distressing thing is that teen depression is incredibly common.
In fact, “The total number of teenagers who recently experienced depression increased 59% between 2007 and 2017.” When you add up all the data, 1 in 5 adolescents from all walks of life will suffer from depression at some point during their teen years.”
Unfortunately, when left untreated depression can worsen. It can even turn into a persistent depressive disorder. It impacts everything from relationships to school to work. It can even change how you feel, how much you sleep, and whether you can get out of bed in the morning. Tragically depression all too often ends in suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, or suicide. Increasing rates of teen depression are one of the main reasons that suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29-year-olds. What a scary statistic. Just more proof that depression in teens is a real issue and that you should take your child seriously when they say things like “I want to end it all” or “I can’t take this life anymore.”
The teenage years are full of uncertainty and stress. This is because teenagers are just working out who they are and what their place is in the world. When things don’t go as planned, it can be tough for teens to cope. This has been especially true since the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, “throughout the Covid-19 pandemic youth ages, 11-17 have been more likely than any other age group to report moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.“
It is normal for teens to struggle with the ups and downs of teenage life. When those downs don’t bounce back, teens can sink into issues like depression. If you are reading this article you already have a hunch. It is important to trust your gut when it comes to your child, after all, you know them best. With that said, take a look at these signs of teenage depression and see if you recognize any of your child’s struggles.
Signs of Depression in Teens
The risk factors of adolescent depression can be grouped into the following symptoms (click on each symptom to learn more):
Changes in Mood
Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with a mood disorder like an anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder. Young people have a lot to worry about today, and when that worry becomes excessive or circular it can contribute to teen depression symptoms.
Let’s face it, it’s normal for teens to be moody. This can be a sign of depression when the moodiness goes beyond what is expected. When someone is depressed, going through daily life obstacles can be frustrating. This symptom can be more prominent for teenagers who are struggling with depression.
Teenagers who are depressed can struggle with anger outbursts. It is hard for them to feel supported and they often report feeling isolated. They often don’t know how to express their feelings of hopelessness, and instead, lash out at the people who are closest to them.
Depression can cause a teenager to get uncomfortable in a variety of situations. This can present as them being fidgety, bouncing their knee, or tapping their foot in situations that require them to pay attention.
If your teen could snap out of their depression, they would have done so already. Mood swings can be drastic for teens. Chances are they are trying to feel better but don’t have the tools to do so on their own.
Those struggling with depression often blame themselves for their struggles. This can deepen the depressive cycle and make people feel like they will never get better.
One of the classic symptoms of depression is low self-esteem. With depression, teens often see themselves as failures and worthless. This deepens the depressive cycle and can lead to worrying outcomes if not addressed.
Those struggling with depression are often unable to see that they can still have a happy and healthy future. Depression is often all-consuming and leads people to feel like their future is doomed to failure. Fortunately, treatment can drastically increase their chances of overcoming depression.
Excessive worrying and circular thought processes are common for people who are depressed. Excessively thinking through these often negative thoughts can be harmful.
There is evidence that people who are depressed struggle with memory and concentration. This can impact everything from work, to school, to simple everyday tasks.
Feelings worthless, inferior, or guilty are common for someone who is experiencing depression. These feelings are often overwhelming and can prevent people from having a normal quality of life.
Have you ever heard that depression hurts? Studies show that our bodies manifest emotional pain into physical pain. Your son or daughter could be depressed if they are complaining about frequent headaches, stomach aches, or chronic pain. They could be going to the nurse and/or doctor’s office more often. Don’t miss this common symptom that accompanies the emotional pain of depression.
Depression can impact physical activity and diet. It is not surprising then that depression can impact weight.
Someone who is depressed often reports feeling too tired to do things. This fatigue is actually a symptom of depression and a good indicator of a deeper issue.
People’s sleep cycles can also be impacted by depression. Whether this means that someone is struggling to sleep, or sleeping too much, abnormal sleep patterns are a good indicator of depression.
For someone struggling with depression, personal hygiene or appearance is often not at the top of their list of concerns. This can lead to slipping standards of self-care.
Impulse Control Issues
It is normal for teenagers to push boundaries, and be a bit reckless at times. When this behavior becomes frequent and severe then that is a time to be concerned. For example, risky sexual escapades, sneaking out at night, legal trouble, etc. So if your teen has become less concerned for personal safety and the safety of others, that is a big concern.
Alcohol and drug experimentation is normal during the teenage years. Many people turn to drugs and alcohol to self-medicate for depression. Teens who are depressed are at a high risk of becoming addicted, especially if they are not getting treatment for substance abuse.
Is your teen on their phone constantly? If this frustrates you, you are not alone. Many depressed adolescents will use technology to escape or distract themselves from their feelings. This can even evolve into an addiction as they become more dependent on the situation technology provides.
Self-harm is a worrying symptom of a deeper mental health issue. Teens struggling with self-harm are usually struggling with deep depression and/or an anxiety disorder. They need immediate treatment.
Changes From the Norm or Routine
One common sign of depression is a loss of interest in living life. Depression can overwhelm other emotions. It can also lead to a deep melancholy or apathy towards activities that would normally be fun to them.
Depression can make school much more difficult. It can overwhelm one’s will to complete schoolwork and can lead to school failure.
When struggling with depression, getting out of bed in the morning can seem like climbing Mt. Everest. Going to school can seem impossible. This often leads teens suffering from depression to refuse to go to school.
Disruption in one’s daily routine caused by depression can also impact eating habits. Also, food can be used as a maladaptive coping skill to help fill the void left by depression.
Again, depression can make getting up and facing the day seem like an insurmountable challenge. For this reason, depression can often lead to a decrease in overall physical movement and exercise.
Depression can impact almost every part of daily life. One area that often suffers is relationships with friends or family members.
Depression is hard to deal with on its own. Even dealing with other people on top of depression can feel like too much. People who are experiencing depression often withdraw from relationships and self-isolate.
When struggling with depression, people’s moods can change dramatically. This can often lead to changes in friend groups for teens.
These thoughts can be recurrent and do not always include a specific plan for committing suicide.
Suicidal threats should never be taken lightly. If your child is expressing suicidal thoughts and especially if they have a plan, get them the help they need right away. There are many resources out there.
Suicide is the last outcome that any parent wants for their child. A suicide attempt is an immediate and clear signal that someone needs professional mental and behavioral health treatment.
Atypical Depression Symptoms
Someone already struggling with depression and self-image issues is less likely to put themselves in a position where they could face rejection or failure. Additionally, if someone is depressed, then being rejected or experiencing failure might worsen their depressive episode.
People experiencing depression often blame themselves for the negative things or feelings in their life. This can lead people with depression to be overly apologetic which isn’t healthy.
People respond to depression in different ways. Some people try to control different parts of their lives to compensate for the lack of control of their emotions. Counterintuitively, this means that someone struggling with depression might present as a perfectionist.
Depression often leads to shifts in mood, but can also lead to shifts in personality. Depression is a complex chemical and emotional process and can have a variety of outcomes that are often difficult to predict or explain.
Sometimes people will overcompensate for their depression by outwardly showing a happy facade. This is sometimes known as hidden depression. As the name implies, this type of depression can be hard to spot.
Research studies have shown that there is a link between depression and short-term memory loss. Depression can cause what is known as a brain fog where people with depression may seem “out of it” or seem disconnected.
People who are depressed tend to have poor coping skills. People who are depressed can respond negatively to loud noises, boredom, or other stressors.
Have you ever heard of the brain-gut connection? Researchers have found that people who experience a mental health problem like depression, and anxiety can also experience intestinal distress. This distress is usually caused by increased inflammation in the gut.
Differences Between Depression In Teens and Adults
Teens often fail to get help with their depressive disorder on their own. They may not even know what kinds of help are out there. They rely on the adults in their life to advise them on what to do when depression knocks them off their feet. Adults often have access to resources that teens do not.
Teens may also present with different symptoms than adult depression.
Symptoms and Behaviors More Common in Depressed Teens
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Headaches or stomach aches
- Emotionally sensitive
- Some social withdrawal but not completely isolating
- Tech addiction / phone addiction
Depression can cause your son or daughter to feel hopeless, and angry. Often teenagers don’t know how to cope with being overcome by this kind of sadness and can start to “act out” in the following ways:
Is It Depression or Normal Teenage Behavior?
Teens go through many ups and downs. They act out and can be moody at times. This is normal for teenagers, but major depression is not. Teens’ emotions can seem to fluctuate a lot as they go through the ups and downs of teenage life. Oftentimes, it may seem like a depressed teen has every reason to be happy and is still plagued with overwhelming sadness or numbness.
How Do You Know When it is a Problem?
Depression is a problem when depressive symptoms affect your child’s everyday life. Depression goes beyond normal teenage moodiness. Depression is a destructive force that can tear apart a young person’s personality. You may feel like you have lost them in a way.
If this goes on for more than two weeks then your child might be struggling with depression. So if your child is not going to school, is struggling with relationships, is unable to cope with the basic stressors in life, and/or is unable to find joy in activities they once enjoyed, it is time to start looking for resources that fit your child’s needs. If you are not sure if your son or daughter is truly depressed or just being a teenager ask yourself the following three questions.
- How long have the depressive symptoms been going on?
- How bad are the depressive symptoms?
- How are they acting differently from their normal self?
Is This Just a Phase?
How do you know that it isn’t just a phase with your teenager? Teens go through so many phases. It can seem like one minute they want to be a lacrosse superstar and the next they want to play in a band. These types of phases are normal development. They are just part of how teens try new things and figure out who they are.
As a parent, there are a couple of key indicators that can help you know when your teen is struggling with depression, rather than just going through a phase. One of the key indicators is that your teen is no longer taking joy in activities they once liked. Another indicator is that your teen is withdrawing socially. They could be spending more time by themselves. Many do so by looking at their phones or playing video games. A third indicator is that your teen is showing significant changes in their day-to-day life. Indicators that parents often see include sleeping more, missing school, failing classes, or quitting sports. These are all signs that your teen might be going through more than a phase and could be struggling with depression.
Teenagers who have a mental illness like depression need professional help! More than just being prescribed antidepressants for their depressed mood. Being depressed is not a fun experience, and if they could change it on their own they would. It is much more than a phase.
In fact, “Most adults with depressive illness recall their first episode as occurring in the teenage years, and prospective studies of youth suggest that first onset may be typical in early adolescence.” For adults who develop severe depression, it started in their teen years. So if your son or daughter is showing signs of depression it is important to get them the help that they need.
Treatment for teen depression can come in a variety of forms. One of the first, and least disruptive treatment options is talk therapy, usually cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy. A mental health professional will engage in open conversations with your depressed teenager about their experiences, challenges, achievements, effective techniques, and coping mechanisms. The therapist may recommend exploring the advantages of adolescent psychiatry as a way to alleviate depressive symptoms in your teen.
If the clinical depression persists or worsens, parents can consider intensive outpatient (IOP) therapy. IOP therapy means seeing a therapist more regularly, most likely multiple times per week.
Unfortunately, traditional talk therapy and IOP are often not enough to help some teens overcome their depression. If these methods aren’t working, it might be time to consider alternative treatment options.
Why Nature-based Therapy?
Nature therapy is a treatment option that is particularly well-tailored for teens struggling with depression. Nature-based treatment programs combine professional mental health counseling with natural challenges, novel experiences, and powerful adventures to fast-track the healing process. Additionally, nature therapy programs are specifically designed for teens and their families. They allow teens to connect with and learn from other teens struggling with similar challenges. Overall, nature-based therapy has shown strong positive outcomes for teens including improved self-efficacy, increased resilience, and a more positive outlook on life.
How ThreePeaks Ascent Can Help
Nature therapy programs like ThreePeaks Ascent can be an effective depression treatment option for teens. For one thing, nature-based residential treatment removes teens from their environments and allows them to focus on improving themselves. A nature therapy program also provides the space and time for teens to process their feelings in a healthy way and under mental health professionals’ supervision.
Programs like ThreePeaks Ascent use a dynamic approach that is research-based. ThreePeaks Ascent provides accurate teen mental health assessments, so you can be assured that your child is getting the help that they need. These therapeutic methods create an environment of growth and learning that will help get your teenager back on track and overcome their mental health issue.
Exposure to novel environments and activities at nature therapy programs has also been shown to be an effective way to challenge teens. In this setting, teens have the chance to practice new coping strategies.
Further, overcoming seemingly impossible challenges, like summiting a large mountain, has been shown to improve resilience, grit, and self-efficacy. These are all critical elements to healthy teen development and are vital for overcoming feelings of hopelessness that accompany depression.
In all, nature therapy is a smart option for a teen who is showing signs of depression. Nature-based treatment’s unique environment provides customized treatment plans implemented by mental health professionals. If your teen struggles with depression, you might want to consider ThreePeaks Ascent as a treatment option.
Help for Depressed Teens
If your child is struggling with depression, it might be time to seek outside help. Depression is a serious condition and it is better to get on top of it early and help get your child back to living the kind of life that they’ve dreamed of. With the right support and counseling, your child and your family can overcome depression and look forward to a brighter future.
If you are considering professional counseling and think that our nature-based therapy program might be a good fit for your teen, reach out to the ThreePeaks admissions team. They are available any time to answer all of your questions. Give them a call today at 435-272-1280.
About ThreePeaks Ascent Nature-based Therapy Program
The ThreePeaks Ascent program is uniquely crafted to assist students and their families in creating lasting, life-long emotional changes through compassionate, intentional, research-backed, and safe nature-based therapy programs. The professionals at ThreePeaks Ascent understand individuals don’t come with instructions, and every student is unique, capable, and amazing in their own right.
Our program focuses on helping adolescents and their families through difficulties that occur when various behavioral, cognitive, or developmental issues are present. Research shows that engaging individuals on a personal level with strategic and intentional activities will aid in developing the tools and skills necessary to engage in life in a healthy and positive way.
Benefits of a Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment Program
Being immersed in nature can have a profound impact on a teenager. It improves their mental, emotional, and physical health. Combined with a proven clinical approach, a therapeutic experience helps teens heal. Here are specific benefits your family can expect to see while your teen is in nature-based short-term residential treatment.
The first stage of effective short-term residential treatment focuses on assessment and stabilization.
By observing your teen in a novel environment, our experienced therapists gain a deep understanding of what is really happening with your child. Research indicates accurate mental health assessments can lead to a 20% reduction in the number of days in treatment.
Mental health stabilization provides a safe environment to deescalate your teen’s level of distress and/or reduce their acute symptoms of mental illness. Until teens feel genuinely safe, they cannot begin to heal. One therapeutic modality emphasizes that “Cues of safety are the treatment” and “safety is defined by feeling safe and not simply by the removal of threat.” It is not enough to merely tell a teen in crisis that they are mentally and emotionally safe, they must actually feel and believe it.
Once your teen feels safe, our wilderness-based residential treatment program provides a novel and challenging environment that disrupts their unhealthy patterns and behaviors. Behaviors that either:
- cause your teen's mental & emotional health struggles
- or that your teen has developed as a negative way of coping with their struggles.
The second stage of an effective residential treatment program focuses on engaging teens in the therapeutic process and empowering them with the skills needed to thrive.
1. Engaging Teens in Therapy (even if they’ve been resistant to it before)
The ThreePeaks Ascent treatment program is designed to re-engage teens in healthy adolescent development. When your teen attends a short-term residential program, they are taken away from negative distractions they may have at home. They engage in treatment in a way that would not be possible in any other setting.
Your teen will participate in individual, group, and family therapy sessions while in treatment. This allows them to evaluate their behavioral health as well as make changes in their personal life and family relationships. They are also able to learn from their peers, realize they are not alone in their struggles, and gain motivation to make changes.
We've found that by the time of discharge, 90% of teens were actively engaged in treatment. When contacted six months after treatment, most of these teens maintained the motivational progress they made during treatment.
2. Empowering Teens Through Skill Development
As your teen engages in the therapeutic process, they’ll start to see huge progress. But for long-term healing, it is not enough to only alleviate your teen’s struggles, we must also empower them with the skills needed to thrive in life. These skills include:
- Self-awareness skills like a growth mindset, identifying one's feelings, developing interests & sense of purpose
- Self-management skills like emotional regulation, self-motivation, resilience, setting & achieving goals, planning & time management
- Responsible decision-making skills like showing curiosity & open-mindedness, anticipating & evaluating the consequences of one’s actions, internal locus of control
- Relationship skills like communicating effectively, seeking & offering support, resolving conflicts constructively
- Social awareness skills like showing empathy & compassion for others, taking others’ perspective, recognizing strengths in others
Your teen is powerful, intelligent, and capable. They are among the leaders of tomorrow. That is why the third stage of our short-term residential treatment program focuses on helping teens redirect their previously misused potential toward developing mastery in life.
Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche observed years ago, “Happiness is the feeling that power is increasing—that resistance is being overcome.” When teens develop competence and mastery they:
- gain self-reliance and self-confidence
- become more resilient
- have a greater sense of meaning and purpose
- and better resist negative emotions.
Overall, building mastery helps teens develop a positive mindset. Because they feel competent and in control, they go from feeling, “I’m not capable” to “I can do this!”
Additional References & Mental Health Resources
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
- SAMHSA National Helpline
- National Alliance on Mental Health
- Depression in Teens | Mental Health America
- The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time by Alex Korb PhD
- The New Mind-Body Science of Depression by Vladimir Maletic & Charles Raison
- Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression by James S. Gordon M.D.
- You Are Not Alone: The NAMI Guide to Navigating Mental Health―With Advice from Experts and Wisdom from Real People and Families
About the Author
Steven DeMille, Ph.D. LCMHC
Steven DeMille is the Executive Director of ThreePeaks Ascent. He is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor. His educational experience includes an MA in Mental Health Counseling and a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision. His research focus is on Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment, nature, adolescent development, and counseling ethics. He is actively involved in the counseling and psychology profession and holds regional and national leadership positions. He publishes and presents on Nature-Based Short-Term Residential Treatment and the use of the outdoors. This is done around the world at the national and international conference levels.