by Chris Taylor, MFT, Author “Back to Basics”

Depression is the most serious mental health issue facing our teens today.  This year 2.8 million American teens will experience depression.  Of those 2.8 million, 30 percent will also develop a substance use disorder, and a depressed teen is 12 times more likely to commit suicide.  With these alarming statistics, only 30 percent of these 2.8 million teens will get help, which is why parents need to know these 5 warning signs of teen depression.

Agitation:  We often think of depression as a profound sadness and inability to function in daily life.  What we don’t often realize is that depressed teens often manifest emotion through outward displays of agitation and anger.  If you see your teen being disrespectful, defensive, or easily upset, then take time to ask yourself if any of these other warning signs are present.  Don’t dismiss it as a teen phase or teen angst.

Poor Grades:  Depressed teens lack energy as their mental energy is spent fighting intrusive negative thoughts about themselves and the world around them.  Parents are quick to explain poor grades as lack of motivation or just plain not caring.  Although, this rational may be reinforced by your teen, look deeper into why he doesn’t seem to have the ability to do the work.


Few Friends:  Teens are social.  They live for their friends, for social gatherings, to not miss out.  If you see your teen withdrawing from their friends group or they are choosing to limit themselves to one or two friends then you might want to check in with them about their mood.  Often they will communicate a lack of interest, or feeling exhausted by social interactions.  If this language is being used, then your teen is depressed.

Frequently Sick:  Depression affects the immune system and limits the body’s ability to fight off infection.  If you have noticed your teen has been sick multiple times over the last 6 months, then you probably want to have depression on your thoughts.  Teens should be healthy and developing strong immune systems as their bodies are growing and developing at a rapid rate.  Although it is normal to get sick occasionally, though frequently is cause for alarm and depression is not often thought of.

Inattentive/Distracted:  We are quick to look at our kids through the ADHD lens, but inattentiveness can be a symptom of depression.  Intrusive negative thoughts can be an ever-present distraction from the world and more specifically people around us.  If you experience your teen “zoning off’.” Or experience a blank stare when trying to converse, then ask yourself what other of these warning signs are present.  It might be that in our attempt to understand, we are missing the most likely answer.

Pay attention to these warning signs in your teen in addition to sleep disturbance, poor appetite and overall lack of motivation to participate in previously enjoyable activities.  Be proactive in investigating the cause of these issues.  Not doing so could be devastating.