Cyber bullying. Pressure to get good grades and fit in at school. Changing bodies and hormones.

They’re all part of the life of a teen. And they all can contribute to adolescent depression. In the U.S., about 10 percent of teens are diagnosed with depression, and more go undiagnosed. 

Is it harder to be a teen now than it was decades ago? Many of the pressures are the same. But digital technology has made all the growing pains and youthful bad choices available for instant replay online. 

Some teens keep their feelings and inner struggles hidden instead of talking to a teacher or family member. Teen girls report suffering from depression more often than teen boys. Boys are also less likely to recognize that they are depressed or to get help. 

Parents may think their teen is just going through a “moody phase” or dealing with the challenges of tough relationships with friends, parents and teachers. Some parents might not take concerns seriously, thinking they'll go away with time, or avoid seeking help because they want to keep a problem within the family.

Depression is a serious mental health problem. It can take over how your teen thinks, feels and acts. Depression can also go beyond just emotional issues to cause functional and physical problems.

If you think your teen might be depressed, take action right away. 

That’s what Nicolette Milano did when she had concerns about her daughter. When her daughter was 12, she began showing changes that worried Milano, like losing her appetite and wanting to sleep all the time.

“The first signs were lack of concentration and her inability to make even simple decisions,” Milano said. “If given a choice of what she wanted for dinner, she would get irritable and overwhelmed. Her anxiety was at an ultimate high. Then the sadness and hopelessness and ‘I just want to die’ thoughts came.”

Milano asked her daughter’s doctor to screen her to see if she had depression. The answer? Yes, she did.

Milano says that she feels fortunate that her daughter was honest about her feelings. “Not a lot of kids are. It's the hardest thing because it's something I can't fix, and fixing it takes time,” she said. “I really feel since we already established an open line of communication with her and have been upfront and honest with her, that has helped her want help.”

What Should You Look For?

What does teen depression look like? Unlike adults, teens are more likely to hang out with their close friends, even if they are depressed.

Depressed teens may also have different sleep patterns then depressed adults. Instead of insomnia, which is typical in adults, teens will still find time to sleep, though it may be at strange hours.

Some depressed teens misbehave at home or at school, say they are bored with everything, or abuse alcohol or drugs.

Teen depression can be linked to lifestyle issues or family dynamics. Or something can cause a depressive episode in children who are predisposed to depression. Depression can also be hereditary.

Parents need to be alert to changes in their teen’s attitudes and behaviors. Be on the lookout for these signs of depression in your teen:

  • Sadness or crying
  • Hopelessness
  • Less interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • Problems focusing
  • Social seclusion
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of patience for praise or rewards
  • Irritability
  • Impulsive and reckless actions
  • Problems with friendships
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection
  • Frequent headaches, stomach aches or other sickness
  • Decreased concern with appearance
  • Poor school performance
  • Changed eating or sleeping patterns
  • Talking about or attempts at running away
  • Talking about suicide

Keep in mind that your child may have depression even if you have not noticed any signs of a problem.

For most teens, depression symptoms get better with treatment like medication and counseling.

Acknowledging a mental health concern can sometimes be hard. But it’s important to take action. If it goes unchecked, teen depression can cause suicidal behavior.

Parents who have any concerns about their child’s mood, behavior or actions should talk with their child’s doctor or nurse.

During your talk with your child’s doctor, make sure all your questions and concerns are addressed. This information can help you decide together what actions might be right for your child.