Depression is a serious mental illness that can affect anyone, at any time. Teens between the ages of 15-19 experience some of the highest rates of depression, which can be linked to emotional and physical changes, feelings of insecurity, or major life events that can be difficult to cope with.
Despite the high volume of depression in teens, the age group is often overlooked because it’s not always easy to tell apart from typical teenage behavior. If you have noticed that your teen is experiencing changes in mood, energy, sleep, appetite, self-esteem, academic performance, and socialization, there’s a chance they may be suffering from depression.
To help teens get the care they need, it’s important for parents and teachers alike to be able to recognize the signs of depression in teens. That’s why we’ve put together a list of common emotional and behavioral changes to look out for. If you are worried about your teen or student, keep reading for five signs of depression in teens.
1.) Unusual sleep habits
Depression often causes people to have a disrupted sleep routine, which can include excessive sleeping, restlessness, or a total lack of sleep (insomnia). A poor sleep routine can lead to other health problems, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, and obesity.
Our mood is also affected by our nighttime habits. For example, when we don’t get enough sleep, we often feel more tired, irritable, and less focused throughout the day.
2.) Mood swings
A shift in mood is one of the most common signs of depression in teens. These shifts can range from moderate to severe, and typically happen at the same time as other symptoms like anxiety or sadness. Mood swings can also be triggered by major events that spark stress or grief.
3.) Changes in appetite
Appetite can be impacted by depression in two ways: weight loss and weight gain. Weight loss is often triggered by an uptick in cortisol levels. Cortisol is the hormone released during stressful situations, which can lead to higher levels of acidity in the stomach, thus reducing appetite.
On the other hand, depression can be linked to weight gain due to a craving for sugary foods known to temporarily boost serotonin (the “mood” hormone) levels. Thus, when an individual is feeling down, they are more likely to turn to unhealthy foods for comfort.
4.) Lack of interest in activities they normally enjoy
Anhedonia, or a lost interest in pleasurable activities, is a main symptom of depression in teens. The two main types of anhedonia are social and physical. Signs of social anhedonia typically include a lack of relationships, self-isolation, and minimal ability to express emotions. Physical anhedonia usually presents itself as a loss of interest in eating or in physical interactions like hugging.
5.) Low self-esteem
It is common for teens to feel misunderstood by their peers and parents. But often, this inability connect can lead to self-esteem issues. Those with low self-esteem may feel that they’re not good enough or they don’t measure up to the standards of others. They might also fixate on past failures, which can result in a spiral of negative thoughts that are hard to break away from. While many of these emotions are processed internally, physical changes, such as a lack of hygiene and self-harm, can also present themselves.
These signs of low self-esteem, when experienced over extended periods of time, can be linked to depression in teens.
Are depression and anxiety linked?
Many people who suffer from depression also experience anxiety. Depression is a mood disorder characterized by persistent sadness and apathy. It can be debilitating in moderate to severe cases, impeding one’s ability to enjoy life or work productively.
Anxiety disorders are marked primarily by excessive worry about the future, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as an accelerated heart rate, fatigue, trouble sleeping, and more. It’s also important to note that experiencing some anxiety from time to time is common. But those suffering from an anxiety disorder will have consistent anxious thoughts that can negatively impact their day-to-day routine.
While there is no evidence that depression and anxiety are linked in terms of directly causing each other, many who battle with depression are likely to have experienced anxiety at some point in their lives or struggle with both simultaneously.
Did the COVID-19 pandemic impact depression in teens?
The lack of social interaction, inability to play team sports, and transition to virtual education, which were all caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, transformed the way children and teens normally experience life.
For some teens, these changes triggered anxiety, depression, and other behavioral issues, which led to a surge in hospitalizations in the state of New Jersey alone.
Many of these cases were related to the overall vulnerability of younger populations as well as resource disparities in various communities. In Hispanic communities throughout New Jersey, for example, a lack of resources and assessments available prevented children and teens from getting sufficient help. Because they did not receive the proper attention and coping skills, they were more likely to need professional medical attention.
Coping with depression: helpful tips
If your teen is experiencing depression, it can be hard to know how to help. As a starting point, here are a few ways to help your teen manage their depression:
- Find a therapist they can talk to in confidence
- Show them you are there for support whenever they need it
- Prepare healthy, nutritious meals to help them maintain good health and wellness
- Give them a journal to express their thoughts through writing
- Help them create a schedule to establish a daily routine
- Offer to being their exercise buddy — working out is great for boosting endorphins and overall mood!
While there are many avenues for coping with depression, choosing a few from this list and gradually incorporating more into your teen’s lifestyle can be extremely beneficial overtime.
Moving forward with hope
Depression in teens is a serious mental illness that can be hard to recognize. That’s why it’s important to be aware of these five signs of depression in teens so you can recognize if your teen experiences any of them.
Thankfully, there are many great resources available to help your teen cope with depression, including how to manage moods and maintain a well-balanced lifestyle. Just remember, there’s no single solution for every person who suffers from depression and different things work differently for everyone depending on what they need at that time. Ultimately, the most important thing is to let your teen know there’s someone there for help, support, encouragement, and companionship.