What Is Adolescent Depression?

More commonly referred to as teenage depression, this mental and emotional disorder is no different medically from adult depression. However, symptoms in teens may manifest themselves in different ways than in adults due to the different social and developmental challenges facing teens. These include:

  • peer pressure
  • sports
  • changing hormone levels
  • developing bodies

Depression is associated with high levels of stress, anxiety, and in the worst possible scenarios, suicide. It can also affect a teen’s:

  • personal life
  • school life
  • work life
  • social life
  • family life

This can lead to social isolation and other problems.
Depression isn’t a condition people can “snap out of,” or simply “cheer up” from. It’s a real medical condition that can affect a person’s life in every manner if it’s not treated properly.


Differences in the Brain

Research has shown that the brains of adolescents are structurally different than the brains of adults. Teens with depression can also have hormone differences and different levels of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are key chemicals in the brain that affect how brain cells communicate with one another and play an important role in regulating moods and behavior.

Traumatic Early Life Events

Most children don’t have well-developed coping mechanisms. A traumatic event can leave a lasting impression. Loss of a parent or physical, emotional, or sexual abuse can leave lasting effects on a child’s brain that could contribute to depression.

Inherited Traits

Research shows that depression has a biological component. It can be passed down from parents to their children. Children who have one or more close relatives with depression, especially a parent, are more likely to have depression themselves.

Learned Patterns of Negative Thinking

Teens regularly exposed to pessimistic thinking, especially from their parents, and who learn to feel helpless instead of how to overcome challenges, can also develop depression.


How to Spot Depression in Your Child

Estimates from a study published in American Family Physician state that up to 15 percent of children and adolescents have some symptoms of depression.

The symptoms of depression can often be difficult for parents to spot. Sometimes, depression is confused with the typical feelings of puberty and teenage adjustment.

However, depression is more than boredom or disinterest in school. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), some signs of adolescent depression include:

  • appearing sad, irritable, or tearful
  • changes in appetite or weight
  • a decreased interest in activities your child once found pleasurable
  • a decrease in energy
  • difficulty concentrating
  • feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • major changes in sleeping habits
  • regular complaints of boredom
  • talk of suicide
  • withdrawal from friends or after-school activities
  • worsening school performance

Some of these symptoms may not always be signs of depression. If you’ve ever raised a teenager, you know that appetite changes are often normal, namely in times of growth spurts and particularly if your teenager is involved in sports.

Still, looking out for changing signs and behaviors in your teen can help them when they’re in need.