Teen Depression or Normal Angst? How to Tell the Difference and Help Your Teen

teen depression

Teen depression can cause moodiness, irritability, low energy, changes in appetite and disturbances in sleep. These are also completely normal signs of adolescence.

“I hate you!”, your teen daughter yells as she storms up the stairs and slams the door to her room. A few minutes later, you hear her sobbing. Not long after that, she is singing along with her favorite song. It can be hard to keep up, and even harder to know what to do! Sometimes it feels like anything you say or do will make things worse.

You may also notice that your teen is sleeping a lot, having trouble in school, staying up late, struggling with peer relationships or their room looks like a tornado went through it. Are these things normal, or could they be a sign of teen depression?

Know that you are not alone.

Parents often have a hard time knowing whether their teen is experiencing normal teenage challenges or struggling with their mental health. Sometimes it can be a really fine line.

Teen Depression Affects More Than 1 in 10 Youth

The 2017 State of Mental Health in America Report stated that 11%, more than 1 in 10, youth ages 12-17 experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year. 7.4% experienced at least one severe episode. Of those, 64% did not get any help. The state with the highest level of youth depression was Oregon, at 14.62%.

This is huge! Imagine your teen with 9 of their peers. One of them is struggling with depression severe enough to impact their functioning in school, at home or at work. What makes this especially scary for parents is the recent rise in  teen suicides.  Suicide is now the 3rd cause of death in youth ages 10-24. This makes it even more important to know what to look for and what to do.

I have a lot of empathy for teens.

I remember what it was like trying to navigate the shark-infested waters of the ever-changing teen social landscape. The hormone shifts making everything feel like a crisis, the constantly fluctuating moods, starving all of the time and feeling JUST. SO. TIRED.

You know your teen better than anyone, so trust your gut. If you feel like something is off, it very well might be. Following are the symptoms of major depression as laid out in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). If you are noticing these symptoms in your teen, or if they are having trouble functioning in school, with peers, at home, or at work, reach out for help. Your pediatrician or family doctor is a great place to start; there are additional resources listed at the end of this article.

Symptoms of Teen Depression

  1. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day. This can present as sadness or crying, but in teens it can also show up as increased irritability or frustration.
  2. Things your teen used to enjoy are no longer fun.
  3. Unintentional weight loss or weight gain, significant changes in appetite.
  4. Sleep disturbance; sleeping more or less than usual.
  5. A significant change in your teen’s level of activity; they may seem like they are moving really slowly or hyperactive.
  6. Fatigue or low energy nearly every day.
  7. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt.
  8. Difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
  9. Recurrent thoughts of death (not just fear of dying), suicidal thoughts, attempts or plan.


Something to keep in mind is whether these symptoms happen nearly every day and are severe enough to limit functioning. So if your teen is not getting up for school, participating in her normal activities or  is isolating from friends, those are warning signs for teen depression.

What to do if you think your teen might be depressed:

Most importantly, just be there. Let your teen know that they are not alone, that you are on their side and will help them through this.

  1. Keep the lines of communication open. If you listen and be present when they open up about the little stuff, they will be more likely to share the big stuff.
  2. Spend time together doing an activity. Sometimes it’s easier for teens to open up when you are doing something, like taking a walk, playing a game or driving in the car. Take advantage of those opportunities rather than trying to force a conversation.
  3. Don’t minimize your teen’s experience. If they tell you they are struggling, resist the urge to tell them they are overreacting or everything is fine. That is a quick way to shut them down. Sometimes the best words you can say are “that sounds really hard. ”
  4. Encourage your teen to stay within their normal routine. In general, teens sleep more than adults and often have later bedtimes and wake up times. Know what’s normal for your teen. Teens need 8-10 hours of sleep and most do not get this much so they often crash on the weekends. However, if your teen is usually up by 10:30 and is suddenly in bed until after noon, this could be a warning sign
  5. Ask your teen what their own warning signs are. A good question to ask would be “how can you tell if you are having a hard time and might need some help?”


I hope this helps you feel a little more empowered to know what to look for and how to help your teen. Have a great week!


Additional Resources for Help:

National Mental Health Association

(800) 969-6642

National Parent Helpline


National Crisis Text Line

Text 741741 to be connected to a trained crisis counselor

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

800-273-TALK (8255)

Psychology Today- Find a Therapist

Related articles:

Get Your Free Copy of Mindfulness To Go: 30 Strategies to Keep You Calm on the Run. These quick, easy mindfulness activities are great to share with your teen!

8 Signs of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and What to Do to Feel Better


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