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When Your Teen Has Been Diagnosed with Depression

Moodiness is normal in teenagers. A condition called depression is more than just moodiness. It’s a serious but treatable illness that affects your child’s mood and behavior. Your teen has been showing signs of depression. Below is more information on this often misunderstood condition.

Teen with head on arms on table, with parent looking on

What is depression?

Depression is a mood disorder. This means that the condition affects your child’s mood and behavior. No one is exactly sure what causes depression. It's associated with changes in levels of certain chemicals in the brain. These chemicals affect the ability to feel and experience pleasure. Depression may run in families, and a teen may be more likely to become depressed if someone else in the family has had depression.

Depression is an illness, just like diabetes or heart disease. And like those illnesses, depression is not something a teen can just "snap out of." Treatment is needed.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Depression is diagnosed by its signs and symptoms. A teen may not have every symptom. But it's important to talk to a healthcare provider about any symptoms that are severe or that get in the way of daily life. In teens, common signs and symptoms of depression are:

  • Loss of interest in family, friends, or activities that were once enjoyed

  • Talking about feeling hopeless or worthless

  • Increase in reckless or risk-taking behavior

  • Talk of suicide or death

  • Drop in grades

  • Being fearful, anxious, restless, or irritable

  • Excessive crying

  • Big changes in appetite or weight

  • Eating or sleeping more or less than usual

  • Having trouble remembering, concentrating, or making decisions

  • Aggressive or hostile behavior

  • Drug or alcohol use

  • Causing self-injury (cutting, burning, or bruising oneself on purpose)

What’s the next step?

You’ve taken your child to a healthcare provider and gotten a diagnosis of depression. What now? Left untreated, depression can cause many problems. It can lead to drug and alcohol abuse and risk-taking behavior. It can make the development of other mental health problems more likely. And it's a risk factor for suicide. But treatment can help. Your child’s healthcare provider may refer your teen to a mental-health professional for evaluation and treatment.

How is depression treated?

The two most common treatments for depression are medicines and talk therapy. Both methods can take a few weeks to start working. But both can be very effective and are often used together.

  • Medicines for depression are called antidepressants. They affect the balance of certain chemicals in the brain, helping restore them to normal levels. Medicine can be very helpful. But finding the best one for your teen may take time. If medicines are prescribed, follow instructions carefully. Let your healthcare provider know how your child is doing and whether you see any changes. Never let your teen take more, take less, or stop a medicine on his or her own without talking with the doctor first. Also never give your child herbal medicines along with antidepressants without talking with your doctor first. In teens and young adults, antidepressants can sometimes cause increased thinking about suicide. If this happens, talk with your teen’s doctor right away. Make certain your teen knows that it is unsafe to share the medicines with anyone.

  • Talk therapy for depression involves talking to a counselor or other trained professional. Different counselors use different methods for talk therapy. But all therapies aim to help change thoughts and feelings about problems. Therapy is often done one-on-one. But it can also be done in a group with other teens or with other members of the family.

Other things that can help

Recovery from any illness takes time. Getting better from depression is no different. While your teen is recovering, here are things that can help him or her feel better:

  • Let your teen know that depression is a serious illness that is not his or her fault.

  • Be understanding of your teen. Your teen's behavior may be trying at times, but he or she is just trying to cope. Your support can make a huge difference.

  • Encourage your teen to spend time with friends and loved ones.

  • Encourage your teen to exercise regularly. Exercise has been shown to help relieve symptoms of depression.

  • Keep in mind that helping your child manage this illness, affects the entire family. Consider joining a support group for parents and siblings of teens suffering from depression. Your family doctor and your teen's school counselor should be able to provide a list of online and community resources.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call the healthcare provider if your teen:

  • Has side effects from a medicine

  • Has depression that gets worse

  • Becomes very aggressive or angry

  • Shows signs or talks of hurting himself or herself (see below)

Depression can fill your child’s head with thoughts so negative that killing him- or herself can seem like the only option. If you are concerned that your child may be thinking about suicide, don't hesitate to ask your child about it. Asking about suicide does NOT lead to suicide. Suicidal thoughts or actions are not a harmless bid for attention, they are a sign of extreme stress and should not be ignored. If your child talks about suicide, act right away! If you know someone who is talking about suicide and has the means to carry it out: Don't leave the person alone Take action. Remove means, such as guns, rope, or stockpiled pills. Call your child’s healthcare provider, or 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433), or 800-273-TALK (800-273-8 255) right away.

For a person in immediate danger, call 911,

To learn more

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,  800-273-TALK) (800-273-8255),

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness, 800-950-6264,

  • National Institute of Mental Health, 866-615-6464,

  • American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2020
© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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