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Teenage Depression Help

Our teenage years can be some of the most emotionally and mentally challenging of our lives. It’s normal for everyone to go through ups and downs during this time. However, it’s important to be able to recognise when a teenager may be experiencing depression, so you can support them to get the help they need.

Here, we outline the signs and symptoms of depression in teenagers, give tips on how both parents and teachers can help a depressed teen, and provide information on the depression treatment that’s available.

You can also download our Guide on Teenage Depression for more information.

Signs of Depression in Teens

The signs and symptoms of teenage depression at home may include:

  • Appearing to be sad and having a low mood
  • Being more tearful than usual
  • Being more irritable than usual
  • Getting angry or hostile over small matters
  • Sleeping excessively or struggling to sleep
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that they used to enjoy
  • Not wanting to have discussions about their future
  • Feeling very negative about themselves and appearing to be sensitive to comments that people make, perceiving them to be negative and personal
  • Changes in their appetite
  • Neglecting their appearance or personal hygiene
  • Self-harm or suicidal thoughts

Symptoms of teenage depression at school may include:

  • Changes in how they spend their free time at school – they may spend more time on their own or be less interactive with their normal friendship group
  • A decrease in concentration and/or effort
  • A noticeable decline in their academic performance
  • Not wanting to discuss exams/university applications and becoming upset when this occurs
  • Walking out of lessons when this is unusual for them
  • Dropping out of extra-curricular activities that they used to enjoy

How to Help a Depressed Teen

While it can be upsetting to watch a teen that you care about struggle with their mental health, there are a number of things that you can do to support someone with depression.

Advice for Parents

If you’re the parent of a teenager who’s showing the signs and symptoms of depression, a good place to start is to calmly explain to them that you’re worried about them as you’ve seen changes in their behaviour. By approaching this conversation in a calm and non-confrontational way, this makes it more likely that they’ll feel comfortable enough to open up to you about how they’re feeling.

You could also offer to spend some quality time together doing something that your teenager would usually enjoy. While you’re both engaged in the activity, you might get further opportunities to talk to them about what they’re going through and how they’re feeling. Having activities planned can also give them something to look forward to.

If you’re worried that your son or daughter is at risk of harming themselves, explain to them that you want to support them in a way they feel comfortable with. It’s also worth discussing a risk communication system with them – this could be a traffic light system. You could encourage them to let you know the colour that represents their risk each morning and evening, communicated either verbally or via a text if they feel more comfortable doing this.

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’re feeling low but not at risk of harming themselves, while green might signify that they’re having a good day and feel able to go out with friends on their own or do some of their normal activities. Establish what each traffic light might mean beforehand and you can use your knowledge of your child to give the most appropriate support. Throughout this exercise, keeping the lines of communication open is key.

Advice for Teachers

If you’re the teacher of a teenager who is struggling with depression, there are a number of things you can do to support them, enabling their time at school to be as comfortable and stress-free as possible.

As an initial step, it can be helpful to interact with the teenager away from their peers. This will avoid making them feel uncomfortable if they aren’t ready to discuss their depression with their friends yet. It’s also important to clarify confidentiality early on, and who you’re able to express any concerns to.

It can also be useful to explain some of the sources of support that they have access to, both in and outside school. Let them know that you’re always there to listen to them at school if they’re struggling with their mood and also point them in the right direction for any other on-site support they can access. This might be a school nurse or someone within the pastoral team. You could also offer them the contact details for external support like Samaritans and Childline, explaining to them that these organisations provide 24-hour support and can be accessed via online chat or by phone.

Depression Treatment for Teens

Depression treatment at Priory often includes an evidence-based therapy technique known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This is a talking therapy that helps the teenager to process their thoughts, mood and behaviours and gives them the skills to change any unhelpful patterns in their thinking. You can read more about CBT and the other types of therapy we can offer on our therapy types page.

Young people can also benefit from antidepressant medication when this is taken alongside CBT. These will be prescribed by one of our specialist child and adolescent psychiatrists and have been found to be really effective when treating teenage depression.

We also offer a number of different treatment programmes for people under the age of 18 with depression, including:

Ultimately, the most important message to get across to teenagers is that their depression is entirely treatable. However, it can be a serious mental illness, which is why it’s so important that they get the help they need. We can help young people to overcome their symptoms and get back on track.

Get in Touch Today

For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding young people's mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

Page medically reviewed by Zhila Alfrouz (BA, MA, BACP), CBT Therapist/Counsellor at Priory Wellbeing Centre Manchester.

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