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The Signs of Depression in Teens and Young Adults

Posted on November 24, 2021

The Signs of Depression in Teens and Young Adults

It’s normal to feel sad and depressed sometimes, particularly during the emotional minefield of the teenage years.

However contrary to popular belief, depression is not merely a hallmark of the teenage experience that appears and vanishes as quickly as acne or voice-breaking.

Instead, this mood disorder can wreak havoc on your child’s mental health and in severe cases can lead to thoughts of taking their own life. Unfortunately, it is thought that up to 50% of teenage depression cases are undiagnosed. [1]

As a result, it’s important to educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of depression in teens and young adults in order to provide the most effective care and support for your child.

What are the signs and symptoms of depression in teens and young adults?

It can sometimes be difficult to spot the signs of depression in a teenager or young adult, as they are often misconstrued as the result of hormonal changes and general moodiness.

However depression can be a serious mental health issue that requires monitoring and treatment, so it’s essential that parents, teachers and other family members are aware of the most common signs and symptoms that can indicate this mood disorder.

Physical signs of depression in teens and young adults

  • Tiredness, lethargy and fatigue
  • Frequent complaints of stomach pains, body and muscle aches and headaches
  • Eating more or less than usual, resulting in a noticeable weight loss or weight gain
  • Having difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep, waking up too early or oversleeping
  • Lack of grooming and personal hygiene, appearing dishevelled and unclean
  • Sleeping during the day and staying awake at night

Emotional signs of depression in teens and young adults

  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Believing that they are worthless [2]
  • Taking offence to comments from others, believing them to be a personal attack
  • Appearing unusually interested in the topic of death and dying
  • Feelings of extreme guilt
  • Finding it difficult to make decisions
  • Feeling sad, anxious and/or hopeless
  • Becoming apathetic and distant

Behavioural signs of depression in teens and young adults

  • Becoming withdrawn and isolated
  • Poor performance at school
  • Lack of interest in hobbies and activities that were previously enjoyed
  • Frequent, unexplained absences from school
  • Signs of self-harm such as cuts, scratches, burns and bruises
  • Becoming disruptive at school including walking out of class
  • Frequent outbursts of anger and aggressiveness
  • Rebelliousness at home, school or with friends
  • Suddenly using drugs, alcohol or displaying promiscuous behaviour

If you are unsure as to whether your teen or young adult is experiencing depression as opposed to regular hormonal changes, take the time to speak with them.

This may help you understand the challenges that they are facing along with their state of mind can be extremely helpful in determining whether further action needs to be taken.

What are the most common causes of depression in teens and young adults?

In many cases, there may not be a specific trigger or event that can be pinpointed as the sole cause of depression in a teen or young adult.

However, there are a number of factors that each have the potential to increase the chances of developing this mood disorder, all of which should be acknowledged and observed by parents and teachers alike.

Hormonal changes

The teenage years are a time of extreme hormonal shifts and changes, which can cause chemical imbalances in the brain and body and potentially increase the chances of developing depression.

While mood swings and emotional outbursts are expected during this time, any signs and symptoms of depression should not be discounted.

Some children experience these hormonal shifts earlier than others, leading to premature onset of puberty and potential symptoms of depressions at an earlier age than expected.


Regularly entering an environment that feels unsafe or unpredictable can increase the chances of teens or young adults developing depression. If they are being bullied at school, struggling in class or living in a volatile or abusive home then they are at a higher risk of becoming depressed.

Childhood trauma

It has been scientifically proven that traumatic experiences have the potential to cause physical changes to the brain and the way information is processed, and these changes can result in a higher chance of developing depression.

If a child has experienced abuse, bereavement or any other traumatic event at an early age, they are more likely to grow into a teen or young adult with depression.


If your teen or young adult has a close family member who has been diagnosed with depression, they are more likely to experience this disorder when compared with someone who does not have a history of depression in their family.

More research is needed to determine exactly which genes can cause inherited mood disorders, but it is believed that there are a number of genetic factors that can lead to depression. [3]

Who is more likely to develop depression as a teen or young adult?

While anyone can develop depression regardless of sexuality, appearance, gender or socioeconomic status, there are a number of factors that may make it more likely for a specific individual to experience this mood disorder during their teenage years or early adult life.

Common risk factors for developing depression as a teen or young adult

  • Dealing with low self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence
  • Experiencing bullying, both currently and in the past
  • Living with a mental health disorder such as anxiety, anorexia or bipolar disorder
  • Using alcohol and/or drugs from a young age
  • Having a turbulent and chaotic home life
  • Difficulty keeping up with classmates and having trouble understanding schoolwork
  • Experiencing physical, sexual, mental or emotional abuse
  • Struggling with their self-image
  • Experiencing a stressful or traumatic event such as moving house, divorce or bereavement
  • Having a family member with a history of depression or suicidal thoughts
  • Struggling to come to terms with their sexuality, particularly in an unsupportive and/or homophobic environment

It’s important to note that it is possible for a teen or young adult to develop depression even if none of these risk factors is present.

Similarly, the presence of one or more of these risk factors does not necessarily indicate that they are fated to experience this mood disorder during their teenage years.

How can parents help if their teen or young adult is depressed?

It can be extremely worrying and distressing to learn that your teen or young adult is exhibiting signs of depression.

As a parent, you are likely motivated and anxious to help in any way that you can, and there are a number of steps that you can take in order to help your child feel safe and supported as they learn to manage and cope with this often debilitating mood disorder.

Start a conversation

If you have noticed the signs of depression becoming apparent in your teen or young adult, it’s important that you sit down with them and have a private conversation about their feelings and worries.

It is recommended that this should be a one-on-one conversation with just one parent present, in order to avoid potentially overwhelming them or making them feel as though they are being criticised.

Listen to them

When your teen or young adult expresses concerns or sadness to you, be careful not to dismiss their feelings. Listen carefully to what they are saying and ensure that they feel validated and comforted after opening up to you.

Avoid carrying out any other tasks while they are speaking to you – instead, focus all of your attention on the conversation and be mindful of letting them speak without interruption.

Help them seek treatment

Many teens and young adults are hesitant to seek therapy, but professional therapy can be highly effective in treating depression and can make a real difference in their life.

It may be helpful for them to speak to a school counsellor or teacher before seeking counselling, but ultimately it is your teen or young adult’s choice as to whether to seek treatment.

You can help by explaining the process of therapy and reassuring them that they will not be forced to take medication or speak to a counsellor that they dislike.

Encourage healthy lifestyle changes

As well as therapy and medication, there are a number of natural methods that can help to alleviate the symptoms of depression including regular exercise, nutritious meals, a good sleep schedule and time away from screens.

Involving the entire family in a healthy lifestyle change can be beneficial for all members and avoid your teen or young adult from feeling as though they alone are being managed.

Don’t take it personally

Living with depression can be extremely difficult. Your teen or young adult may refuse to speak to you about their feelings or seek treatment for their mood disorder, despite your best efforts.

In these situations it is important that you don’t take their reluctance to open up personally – instead, make sure they know that they can speak to you about anything that’s on their mind, and do your best to give them the space that they need.


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