How To Manage Depression In Teenagers

Reviewed by Rashonda Douthit, LCSW

Published 01/11/2021

Every stage of life has something peculiar. Turning a teenager comes with its challenges. One of these challenges is depression, which is a common mental health disorder. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates more than 264 million people suffer from depression across all ages.

As the subject of discussion, teenagers are shown by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to cover a specific percentage of the population of those who experience depression in the United States. NIMH shows in 2017 that 2.3 million adolescents (9.4% — between the age of 12 and 17) suffered from at least one episode of major depression with severe impairment.

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Consequently, depression can make the adolescent stage difficult for teenagers and their parents. This is because several changes will begin to set in— changes such as physical, cognitive, and hormonal ones. These changes may be considered one of the main reasons why underlying depression may be difficult to recognize or diagnose. Furthermore, when teenagers are depressed, they may experience emotional and physical pains that parents may not know how to deal with.  It is important to seek a mental health professional's help if you sense that your teen is depressed.   You may check here for a quick depression test to get more clarity on symptoms your teen may be experiencing.

What Is Depression In Teenagers?

Teenagers start to experience depression when their feelings of sadness and irritability become persistent, intense, and overwhelming. Actually, it's normal for teens to feel irritable and sad, sometimes depending on the situation. However, if it begins to interfere with their studies, relationships, and other aspects of their life, professional help should be sought.  When depression becomes serious and debilitating in teenagers, it affects their feelings, thoughts, and performance — it can make them cause problems at school, home, and social life.

The way depression manifests in teenagers is different from person to person. All the same, it may result in behavioral challenges, including moodiness, irritability, defiance, poor grades, running away, skipping school, starting fights, risky sexual behavior, or drug abuse. Besides, depression in teens can be characterized by feelings of helplessness and pessimism. Teens may also self-isolate, thinking that no one seems to be on their side or understand them.

What Are The Symptoms Of Depression In Teenagers?

There are symptoms to be aware of that could indicate depression. Some of these symptoms may be linked to either emotional or behavioral changes.

  • Emotional Changes: These may include irritability, moodiness, low self-esteem, negative feelings (sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness), loss of interest in activities you had enjoyed before, self- criticism, difficulty (concentrating remembering things, or making decisions), trouble-making, thoughts of death or suicidal thoughts, and feelings of guilt.

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  • Behavioral Changes: These may include tiredness, acting-out, restlessness, changes in appetite, angry outbursts, changes in sleep, frequent crying, drug or alcohol use, withdrawal from family and friends, frequent absences from school or a drop in grades, planning a suicide or suicide attempt, and self-harm.

What Are The Causes Of Depression In Teenagers?

There are risk factors for depression in teenagers. Some of these factors may include:

  • A crisis in the family (divorce or death)
  • Abuse (physical, sexual, or emotional)
  • Violence (witnessed by teenagers in the home)
  • Frequent arguing
  • Biochemical imbalances
  • Social exclusion or lack of social support
  • Excessive use of social media.

Moreover, teenagers are susceptible to other risk factors that may be associated with suicide. These may include:

  • A family history of a mental challenge
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Stressful events
  • Being bullied at school

Treatments For Depression In Teenagers

There are a variety of treatment options for depression; however, you need to see a mental health professional who will professionally diagnose and recommend the best form(s) of treatment. It's important that depression in teens is treated as early as possible.  This is because unresolved depression can result in other serious challenges, including medical issues, substance use, and behavior problems. Ensure that you seek your doctor or therapist's help the moment you sense that your teen is experiencing changes in personality, behavior, or mood, which may last for at least two weeks. The following are ways that depression is often treated. 

  • Medications: Medications such as antidepressants can be helpful in the treatment of depression in teens. Some of the commonly used antidepressants for depression are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy is one of the effective ways of treating depression. Two basic kinds of psychotherapy can greatly be of help in the treatment of teens. These include Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and Interpersonal Therapy (IPT). CBT helps teens know how to identify intrusive or unwanted negative patterns of thinking and then replace them with helpful (positive patterns of thinking). Cognitive-behavioral therapy deals with the links between feelings, behaviors, and thoughts.

Interpersonal therapy helps teens know how to interact with people in different ways and develop quality social relationships. Basically, IPT deals with social relationships and issues relating to communication that can add to the feelings of depression.

  • Lifestyle Changes: Changing your lifestyle is an effective self-care strategy that can help treat depression. There are different healthy lifestyle modifications you can exhibit. Some of these may include getting regular exercise, eating healthy diets, and getting enough sleep.

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Getting regular exercise is one of the commonly recommended techniques. Exercise helps increase the levels of endorphins, which make enhance your mood. You can engage in different forms of exercise, such as biking, sports, or dance. 30-30 minutes of walk around the neighborhood can also be effective in boosting your mood. You can encourage your teens to get involved regularly.

Also, what you eat can influence your thoughts, feelings, and actions. You're advised to take healthy meals that can make you active. Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. On the other hand, an unhealthy diet such as refined carbs, sugary snacks, and junk food can worsen depression by making you tired and sluggish.

Getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep daily is typically recommended. Because sleep deprivation for teenagers can affect their mood, it is important that they get enough sleep daily.

Finally, it is not uncommon for some people to rely on alcohol and drugs when suffering from depression. They believe that substance use can help take the problem away. Unfortunately, it can only help temporarily; thereafter, it makes the condition worse.

  • Join A Support Group: Support groups are formed to help people with similar challenges. From your teens, many support groups can help manage their conditions. Some of these groups include Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), Depression Recovery Groups: Teen & College Age, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Action Family Foundation, and Facebook’s Anxiety and Depression Support Group.
  • Avoid Isolation: Isolation strengthens your condition or makes it worse. Depression is characterized by feelings of loneliness and fatigue, making it difficult for you to get out of bed in the morning or too weak to associate with other people. To help yourself in this condition, you should strive to stay social by spending time with friends and family that make you happy and get involved in activities you have already lost interest in. Still, you once enjoyed them or volunteering in developmental programs that can give you a sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, and belongingness (according to studies, helping others boost your emotions and make you feel happy).

Also, try to limit your access to social media. This may be very effective if exposure to social media contributes to your depression. Social comparison can make your trigger depression or make it worse.

  • Talk To Someone: Sometimes, parents may be the cause of depression in teenagers. In this case, parents may not be the right person to run to. You can seek someone else (an adult you can trust, which may include your teacher, therapist, relative, or coach). Sharing your feeling with people can help.

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Deal With Your Stress And Anxiety: In mental health, there are connections between stress, anxiety, and depression. Stress and fear can drain your energy emotionally, interfere with your physical health, increase anxiety levels, and trigger depression. If you can properly manage the stress and anxiety levels that your teens experience, it may help with depression.