Adolescent Depression: Tips that Your Teen May be Struggling

Key considerations when questioning if teens are struggling with a depressive disorder...
Paul Lavella, Director of Alumni & Family Connections at Serenity at Summit (Courtesy photo)

School’s out and summer is in full swing. The season is hallmarked, stereotyped even, with visions of beaches and relaxation. Possibly a family vacation or an epic road trip. For families with teens who struggle with mental health issues, however, summer can pose challenges to wellness.

Adolescent mental health has been a trending topic of discussion, and with just cause. More specific attention to this topic has been drawn due to recent events in popular culture: At the time of this writing, in the 26th week of the 2018, there have been 23 school shootings in the US; 13 Reasons Why, the popular Netflix Series, has officially been renewed for its 3rd season despite outcry from educators and professionals who attest to the negative impact it is having on their teen-targeted audience; four public figures lost to suicide in the past 18 months - Chris Cornell, Chester Bennington, Kate Spade & Anthony Bourdain; teen overdose deaths increased 19%… Need we say more?

The structure of the school year does create inherent anxieties for teens, however the loss of this structure can allow observing adults an opportunity to see how well they are functioning on an emotional level. Signs of depression and other mental health conditions may be very obvious in certain circumstances, however more subtle cues may be overlooked or written off as being “just a phase.” The following considerations offer an updated perspective of how to tell if your tell is struggling with the blues.

Learn from their Language

One of the textbook symptoms of a clinical depression is chronic feelings of guilt or worthlessness. Correct, these are feelings, and not everyone wears their feelings on their sleeve, however just as the eyes are the windows into the soul, our words are the window into our thoughts. Pay attention to what your teen is saying - actually saying. Are things always going wrong? Are things helpless? Is he/she never going to be as good as… Listen to your kids. Better yet, let them know you’re listening.

When Sleep is not their Friend

True, teens are nocturnal creatures. It’s a fact - there’s science to back it up. Many teens require more sleep during this developmental phase of physical and cognitive growth, however many don’t get it. Adolescents that struggle with depression often have difficulty falling asleep or have bouts of insomnia, leaving them ill-equipped to face the day. On the other end of the spectrum, some may over sleep as a way to withdraw and not face the challenges of life. Be attuned to your teens’ sleep patterns, bedtime / morning routines, and anything that may be interfering with them getting good, quality sleep. If these variables seem in check, yet your teen still struggles with shut-eye, it’s a conversation worth having.

Friends, Frienemies, or None at All

One of the cornerstones of adolescent development is learning how to individuate from the family and connect socially with peers. These means of connection have changed over time and more often than not include texting, facetime and social media. Healthy teens maintain and build upon stable relationships with others. Instability in relationships, avoidance of peers, engaging in relationships with others despite consistent tension, and social withdrawal are indicators that your teen may be socially struggling.


In addition to being a recently coined word to describe a feeling of indifference or apathy, MEH is also a useful acronym for a mental health check up. Changes in Mood, Eating or Habits can be an indicator that your teen may be preoccupied with upsetting feelings. As each teen is different, there is no specific pattern to look for per-se. What is important is that you notice if there is a consistent change in their patterns for several weeks.

Drained Emotional Battery

Another classic symptom of depression is losing interest in pleasurable activities of losing a sense of joy in living life. Yet again, the expression of this symptom will vary greatly from teen to teen, however is unmistakable. We all have bad days, but it you’re noticing your teen losing their normal spunk for several weeks straight, let them know you notice and have a heart-to-heart.

Seeking professional help is an important decision to make as early intervention in adolescent depression is ideal. When mental health conditions go unaddressed, they may impact quality and for teens, with a still developing brain, can be significant.

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