As our teenage years can be some of the most mentally and emotionally challenging of our lives, it is important for depression in teenagers to be taken seriously. There are many treatments and therapies available, but many teens find it difficult to seek help.

Our Guide on Teenage Depression outlines what depression can feel like for teenagers, the signs to look out for and the steps you can take to support a child:

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Further information on teenage depression

Dr Van Zwanenberg, clinical director of Priory's Wellbeing Clinics, and medical director of Priory's Woodbourne Hospital explains how the signs of depression in teens can vary between the environments of home and school, and the steps both parents and teachers can take to make sure a teenager gets the support that they need.

She says: “Both at home and in school I would be looking for changes in normal behaviour, particularly with their friends. Lots of teenagers become stroppy with their parents and like to spend time in their rooms but if they are also isolating themselves from friends and changing in the way they respond to friends, that is concerning.”

Some of the signs and symptoms to help spot depression in teenagers at home and in places of education include:

Depression symptoms at home

  • An increase in irritability/hostile/angry outbursts
  • Low mood most of the time
  • Sleeping excessively or struggling to sleep
  • Loss of motivation for activities they used to enjoy – e.g. no longer instigating social events with their friends
  • Not wanting to have discussions about their future
  • Feeling very negative about themselves and appearing sensitive to comments that people make, perceiving them as negative and personal
  • Appetite may reduce or they may comfort eat
  • Taking less pride in appearance
  • Suicidal or self-harm thoughts

Depression symptoms in school

  • A change in their choice of how they spend their free time; they may spend more time on their own or be less interactive with their normal friendship group
  • A decrease in concentration at school and perhaps a deterioration in academic performance or effort
  • Not wishing to discuss exams/university applications and becoming distressed when this occurs
  • Walking out of lessons when this is unusual for them
  • Dropping out of extra-curricular activities/teams which they used to enjoy

What can parents do if they believe their teen is suffering from depression?

When speaking to a teenager with depression, Dr van Zwanenberg suggests that parents should calmly explain that they are worried as they have seen changes in the teen’s behaviour. 

Parents should also offer to spend quality time together doing something the young person would normally enjoy as this may facilitate further discussion when engaging in an activity.

If you are worried about the young person being at risk of harming themselves, explain to them that you want to support them in a way they feel comfortable with.  Think what you can put in place to give them things to look forward to.

It is worth discussing a risk communication system with them, perhaps a traffic light system; asking them if they can, either verbally or through text, signify a colour that represents their risk morning and evening.

If they are red, what would that mean? How would they like you to react? It might be that they want you to sit with them and not leave them alone until they are amber.

Amber might mean they are feeling low but not at risk of harming themselves, while green might be they are having a good day and they should be allowed out with their friends on their own.

What advice should be given to teachers with a depressed teen in their classroom?

While there will be certain activities in which to engage with a depressed teen that are exclusive to home life, there are still methods of communicating with them as a teacher which can enable their time at school to be as comfortable and stress-free as possible.

Dr van Zwanenberg details how it can help to interact with the teenager away from their peers to avoid making them feel uncomfortable if they aren’t yet ready to explain their depression with friends. It is important to clarify confidentiality early on and how this can limit who you can express concerns of depression for the teen with.

Explain to them the sources of support in and outside of school for young people low in mood.  Offer them contact details for Samaritans and Childline, explaining to them they offer confidential support 24/7 and they can be accessed via online chat or the telephone.

What treatment is available for teenagers suffering from depression?

The most important thing to get across to teenagers is that depression is treatable.  However, it is a serious mental illness and it can be dangerous without treatment and support. Therefore plans have to be put in place to help young people stay safe while accessing treatment. 

Treatment available at Priory includes Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), an evidence based therapy for young people with depression. This is a talking therapy that looks at how thoughts, mood, behaviours and physical health are all linked.  It teaches young people skills to change unhelpful patterns in their thinking and behaviours which can lead to improvements in their mood.

A proportion of young people also benefit from antidepressants alongside CBT. These are prescribed by specialist child and adolescent psychiatrists and have a good evidence base when prescribed correctly.

For more details on the full range of Priory services for teens with depression, please call us on 0800 840 3219 or for professionals looking to make a referral, please visit our enquiry form page.