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Learn the Risk Factors, Symptoms and Treatment Options for Depression in Teens
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Learn the Risk Factors, Symptoms and Treatment Options for Depression in Teens

Loneliness Teenage Girls

Mental health encompasses many different illnesses, with one of the most common being depression.

Depression is a significant mental health problem in teens, occurs in as many as 20 percent of all adolescents and occurs more often in girls than boys. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on it, it’s actually been on the rise during the past 10 to 12 years, with an estimated 50 percent increase in both the diagnosis of depression and in the suicide rate for adolescents.

It’s not a weakness, however, and can’t be resolved with willpower or positive thinking; rather, depression is a serious – and occasionally fatal – illness.

Risk factors for depression correlate with issues of self-esteem, such as:

  • Suffering from a negative body image.
  • Experiencing academic problems or the presence of a learning disability or ADHD (more formally, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
    • Being bullied.
    • Having a chronic illness.
    • Being in a threatening or nonsupportive environment as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.

Depression can also be familial, so be aware of family history.

Symptoms vary but often include changes in emotional well-being and behavior. Emotional changes include feelings of sadness, anger, hopelessness, worthlessness or emptiness. There may be a loss of interest in usual activities and fixation on personal failures. Thoughts of death or suicide deserve immediate attention.

Behavioral changes may include fatigue, sleeping too much or too little, changes in appetite, restlessness and anxiety, poor school performance, angry outbursts, substance abuse and lack of attention to personal hygiene. Of course, the teen years are a challenge for all, so it might be difficult to identify signs and symptoms of depression. If you’re concerned, talk to your teen and your teen’s doctor.

See a doctor with your child if symptoms begin to interfere with daily life, school performance or relationships with friends – or at any time you’re concerned. Your child’s primary care physician has easy-to-use tools to screen for depression and should do so at every routine visit. Seek emergency help if you think your child is considering harming himself or herself, or harming others.

Treatment may include psychotherapy with or without antidepressant medications. Parents can help prevent depression by helping their teen address stress, reaching out with support, identifying signs and seeking treatment as early as possible when concerns arise.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Kids (mercykids.org), an expansive network of pediatric care dedicated to meeting the needs of every child, every day.

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Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Kids (mercykids.org), an expansive network of pediatric care dedicated to meeting the needs of every child, every day.

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