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Teen Depression

The diagnosis and treatment of depression requires trained medical professionals. The information
provided below is to be used for educational purposes only and NOT be used as a substitute for
seeking professional care for the diagnosis and treatment of any medical/psychiatric disorder.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), suicide is the third leading cause among
adolescents and teenagers. Although depression is highly treatable, experts say only 20% of depressed
teens ever receive help. And if left untreated, teenage depression can lead to problems at home or school,
drug abuse, or even irreversible tragedies such as homicidal violence or suicide. For every teen suicide
death, experts estimate there are 10 other teen suicide attempts. Fortunately, teenage depression can be
treated; however, unlike adults who have the capability of seeking assistance on their own, teenagers must
rely on parents, teachers or other caregivers to recognize the signs of depression and get them the
treatment they need.

Depression is often hard to recognize in teens because these years are part of a crucial stage in
development — not only physically, but emotionally and psychologically. Often symptoms of depression
are quickly dismissed because parents or caregivers may confuse this behavior for “drama” or

It is also important to recognize that depression in teens can look very different from depression in adults.
Generally teenagers suffer from acute anxiety/panic attacks that may lead to insomnia, fatigue and loss of
appetite. Your teen may begin to isolate themselves from a strong network of friends and family, but still
desire the company of a close friend or significant other. Teenagers may complain about abdominal pain,
nausea and headaches, with no explained medical cause. Adults often feel extreme sadness and
hopelessness and experience frequent episodes of crying or despair. Days or hours are spent in bed and
they lack the energy to function or maintain a daily routine. Adults sometimes attempt to “self-medicate”
by using food or alcohol to alter their moods and feelings of unhappiness.

Below are some of the differences between teenage and adult depression:

• Irritable or angry mood—Irritability, rather than sadness, is often the predominant mood in
depressed teens. A depressed teenager may be grumpy, hostile, easily frustrated or prone to
angry outbursts.
• Unexplained aches and pains—Depressed teens frequently complain about physical ailments
such as headaches or stomach aches. If there is no medical explanation for these aches and
pains it may indicate depression.
• Extreme sensitivity to criticism—Depressed teens are overwhelmed with feelings of
worthlessness, prompting them to be overly sensitive to criticism, rejection and failure.
• Withdrawing from some, but not all people—While adults tend to isolate themselves when
depressed, teenagers usually maintain at least some friendships. However, teens with
depression may socialize less, pull away from caregivers or find a “different crowd” with
whom to socialize. Some causes of depression in teenagers seem to be genetic and those
cannot be changed.

Consider the past of an adopted child: 1) Does the birth family have a personal history of depression? 2)
Was the child subject to a long-term illness or disability, whether physical or mental? 3) Were there
previous difficulties at home, school, or with friends? Often young children who have been abruptly
removed from the care of their birth parents or an unsafe environment have experienced or been witness to
a degree of violence, abuse, neglect and/or trauma, which not only triggers symptoms of depression, but

To learn more about MN ADOPT and our efforts to ensure each child will have a permanent family,
call 612-861-7115 or visit
If you suspect that your teenager is suffering from depression, then take action immediately. Depression can be
damaging if untreated. Even if you are unsure what caused the depression, the problem needs to be addressed-the sooner
the better. The first step is to talk to your teenager. Share your concerns with your child, open up about the signs of
depression you have noticed and encourage them to talk to you. Below are just a few tips for that initial conversation
with your teen.

Tips for Talking to a Depressed Teen:

• Offer support—Let the teenagers know that you are there for them, fully and unconditionally. Hold back
from asking too many questions at once, but make it clear that you are willing to support them and offer to
get them the help they need.
• Be gentle but persistent—Don’t give up if your teenager shuts you out right away. Talking about
depression is very difficult at that age. They often don’t want to admit that there is something wrong and
would rather not ask for help. Be respectful of your teenager’s comfort level while still showing your
concern and willingness to listen.
• Listen without lecturing—Resist any urge to criticize or pass judgment once your teenager begins to talk.
The important thing is to have open communication. Avoid offering “advice” or ultimatums.
• Validate feelings—Don’t try to talk teens out of their depression. Telling them that “you understand” or
“just snap out of it” or “it will be better tomorrow” is not going to make these feelings go away. Simply
acknowledge the pain and sadness, otherwise they will feel like you don’t take their emotions seriously.

It is important to understand that teenage depression is very treatable. However, no two people are affected by
depression the same way. There is not just one treatment that cures depression, and what works for one person might not
work for another. As a teenager the treatment process is unknown and intimidating. They may be resistant to
medications and frightened to open up to a complete stranger in therapy. Therefore, the journey to recovery may be
longer and they may have to try several medications before they find one that works for them. While an adult who
suffered depression as a teen will know what resources are available to them and will generally have a better
understanding of the type of treatment they desire and need.

Things to know when treating depression. 1) Learn as much as possible about depression. Be well informed about the
causes and treatments for depression, and then tailoring them to meet the needs of your depressed teen. 2) Understand
that the right treatment may take time. For example, it make take a few tries to find the “right” therapist. You will
feel discouraged and think it is not worth it, but it is imperative that you continue to find the support that works best for
your teenager. 3) Don’t rely on medications alone. It is hard not to think that one small pill is going to change your
teenager’s mood but the truth is medication is often not enough. Therapy and/or lifestyle changes may be all your
teenager needs. If you do pursue medication for your teenager it make take some trial and error to find the right
combination. All medication should be administered under the supervision of a licensed medical doctor/psychiatrist. 4)
Implement lifestyle changes. Encourage your teen to participate in physical activities because regular exercise provides
natural mood lifting chemical changes in your body. Providing your teen with a balanced diet and ensuring they get the
right amount of sleep is crucial to their care. 6) Offer social support. Plan family outings or activities that include your
teenager’s interests. The more you cultivate social connections, the less isolated they will feel. 7) Treatment takes time
and commitment. All depression treatments take time and sometimes it may feel overwhelming and frustrating for both
the parents and teen. This is normal. Recovery can be unpredictable , but the key is to not give up on your teenager
suffering from depression. Once your teenager’s depression has been treated they have the ability to function, and enjoy
a healthy and productive life.

To learn more about teenage depression signs and symptoms visit:



National Institute for Mental Health

International Adoption Articles: Post Adoption Learning Center
Teen Suicide Prevention
Teen Depression: A Guide for Parents and Teachers by Melinda Smith, M.A., Suzanne Barston, Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., Lisa
Flores Dumke, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.