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.

Depressed teenager.

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 is known that depression is 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.

What are the signs and symptoms of depression?

Depression is diagnosed by its signs and symptoms. A teen may not have every symptom. But any symptoms that are severe or that get in the way of daily life are important to talk to a healthcare provider about. 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 health care 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 is a risk factor for suicide. But treatment can help. Your child’s health care provider may refer your child to a mental-health professional for evaluation and treatment.

Treating depression

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

  • Medications for depression are called antidepressants. These medications affect the balance of certain chemicals in the brain, helping restore them to normal levels. Medications can be very helpful. But finding the best medication for your child may take time. If medications are prescribed, follow instructions carefully. Let your healthcare provider know how your child is doing on the medication and whether you see any changes. Never stop a medication on your own without talking to the doctor first. Also, never give your child herbal medications along with antidepressants. In teens and young adults, antidepressants can sometimes cause increased thinking about suicide. If this happens, talk to your teen’s doctor right away.

  • 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 child is recovering, here are things that can help him or her feel better:

  • Let your child know that depression is a serious illness that is not your child’s fault.

  • Be understanding of your child. Your child’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 child to spend time with friends and loved ones.

  • Have your child exercise regularly. Exercise has been shown to help relieve symptoms of depression.

Call the health care provider If your child:

  • Has side effects from a medication.

  • Has depression that gets worse.

  • Becomes very aggressive or angry.

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

Suicide is a medical emergency

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, do not hesitate to ask your child about it. Asking about suicide does NOT lead to suicide. If your child talks about suicide, act right away! Call your child’s health care provider, 911, or 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433), or 800-273-TALK (800-273-8 255) right away.


  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  800-273-8255  (800-273-TALK) www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org

  • National Alliance on Mental Illness 800-950-6264 www.nami.org

  • National Institute of Mental Health 866-615-6464 www.nimh.nih.gov

  • American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry www.aacap.org