Adolescent Depression: Recognizing the Signs

It’s common for teenagers to be occasionally unhappy or irritable. Adolescence is a time of many major physical, psychological, and social changes, and teenagers often have a difficult time dealing with these.

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As a result, it is often difficult for parents to differentiate normal teenage “highs and lows” from adolescent depression. For example, teenagers with depression don’t always isolate themselves or appear sad, and symptoms of depression that are common among adults are typically less apparent in teenagers.

For many teenagers, depression manifests itself as irritability, anger, and aggression. The following are other symptoms of adolescent depression that parents and caregivers of teenagers should watch out for:

  • Worsening academic performance
  • Diminished interest in formerly pleasurable activities
  • Issues with authority
  • Changes in sleeping habits (either too much sleep, or too little)
  • Substance abuse
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Difficulty in concentrating
  • Withdrawal from friends and loved ones
  • Frequent headaches, stomachaches, and other physical complaints that have no apparent cause
  • Reckless behavior
  • Evidence of self-harm, such as scars, burns, and bruises
  • Violence
  • Criminal behavior, such as shoplifting and driving under the influence
  • Thoughts and talk of suicid

If a teenager appears to have one or more of the aforementioned symptoms, parents or caregivers should offer help and provide him or her with an open, non-judgmental environment in which they can talk about the teenager’s feelings and what he or she is going through. It is imperative for parents or caregivers of a depressed teenager to seek advice from a mental health professional right away. A mental health professional can help by making a diagnosis, and by helping formulate a treatment plan that could involve medication, therapy, or other methods.

Depression is a serious mental illness and is not something that depressed teenagers will simply outgrow. If left untreated, the symptoms can worsen and can eventually lead to suicide. However, with the right professional treatment, teenagers can prevent or minimize future depressive episodes and get their lives back on track.

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Prior to becoming a core faculty professor in Clinical Psychology at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, California, Paul Gabrinetti, PhD consulted for the Department of Probation on children’s services. For more discussions on adolescent depression, follow this Twitter account.


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Paul Gabrinetti, Ph.D., is a core faculty professor in Clinical Psychology at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, California. With four decades of professional experience, he has been on various teaching or consultancy roles from a number of prestigious institutions, including the University of Southern California, Antioch University, Pepperdine University, Woodland Hills Psychiatric Medical Group, Wesval Counseling Center, and The Institute for Human Studies.

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