Important Signs of Depression

to Know With Teenagers

Approximately 20% of all teenagers struggle with depression before adulthood.

And at any one time, roughly 10 to 15 percent of teenagers are struggling with depressive symptoms.

So, it's essential to be aware of the most common depressive symptoms that adolescents experience.

In a recent study (Defrino et al., 2017), it was found that the three most common depression symptoms are:

  • Trouble falling asleep as well as sleeping too much.
  • Feeling more angry and irritable with other people.
  • Losing interest in things they used to enjoy

And if your teen is exhibiting these 3 symptoms, it doesn't ensure difficulties with depression, but they are vital signs to monitor.

Another important takeaway from this study is that teens often refer to potential depressive symptoms as being "stressed" or "down."

And speaking of stressors, common ones that adolescents report as being impactful in this study included:

  • Arguments with parents
  • Incidents of verbal and emotional abuse
  • Death and illness with family members

Take-Home Message

It has never been a more difficult time in human history to be a teenager, as mental health problems have continued to increase steadily over the past several decades.

It's essential to be mindful of how your teen feels and do your best to keep an open line of communication.

I would also encourage you to normalize the area of mental health, as a stigma about mental health and treatment, unfortunately, continue to be limiting factors at times when people would benefit from seeking help.

3 Strategies to Improve Mood

As I mentioned previously, rates of depression continue to rise with adolescents, which has been particularly prevalent during the last decade.

During this time, adolescents reporting symptoms consistent with major depression have increased by 52%.

So clearly, it’s never been more important to learn strategies to manage mood.

Let’s take a closer look at 3 strategies that can help.  

1. Friends serve as a protective factor

It’s well known that most teenagers are highly sociable and enjoy being with their friends.

However, emotions are often contagious, and there can be concern about your teen developing depression if they happen to be exposed to another peer who is struggling with mood.

However, there appears to be support for friends as a protective factor against mood difficulties, provided their peer group is generally happy.

Hill et al. (2015) conducted a study in which they examined how adolescents' mood is impacted by other teens in their social network.

They found that when adolescents are experiencing a dip in mood; if they engage with friends who are in a healthy mood, it provided a protective effect against depression by 50%. 

And if an adolescent is struggling with consistent feelings of depression, their recovery rate is doubled if they are involved in a happy group.

But once again, please note, the study involves a connection with a relatively happy group of friends.

If your teen is involved with a peer group where everyone struggles with mood, this could become a cause for concern.

2. Use Socratic Questioning

What is Socratic questioning, you ask?

Simply put, Socratic questioning involves asking questions that help people to challenge the validity of their thoughts to explore if they are realistic.

Braun et al. (2015), in the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy, followed a group of study participants who engaged in 16 weeks of cognitive therapy (Socratic questioning is a technique used in cognitive therapy).

Results showed that the more the therapist used Socratic questioning, the more improvements the participants exhibited in managing depressive symptoms.

If you would like to use Socratic questioning from time-to-time when interacting with your teen, here is an example of sample questions you could ask if they described feeling like a failure after doing poorly on a test.  

Questions you might ask include:

  • Should everyone that does poorly on a test feel like a failure?
  • If your best friend did poorly on a test, would you consider them to be a failure?
  • Just because you did poorly on a test, does it mean that you can’t do well in school?
  • Is this grade really that bad, and does it account for a significant percentage of your final grade?

Using Socratic questioning can help your teen to think more realistically about their thoughts and feelings.

And hopefully, your teen will start to incorporate Socratic questioning into their daily life.

3. Speak Positively About the Future

Prospection (i.e., how we see the future) can be an essential factor that can influence feelings of depression.

Roepke & Seligman (2015), in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology, examined if being pessimistic about the future can cause feelings of depression.

Typically, it’s been thought that feeling depressed causes people to think pessimistically about the future instead of the other way around.

So, essentially this is one of those “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” type of questions.

What the researchers found is that thinking pessimistically about the future is a significant factor contributing to feelings of depression.

They also found that there are 3 ways of thinking about the future that likely causes these feelings:

  • Poor generation of possible futures
  • Poor evaluation of possible future
  • Negative beliefs about the future

And it was also noted that once there is an issue with depression, people tend to feel even more pessimistic about the future (because they are already feeling depressed), which creates a nasty feedback loop that makes feelings of depression even worse.

As parents, I encourage you to speak positively about the future and challenge any irrational beliefs your teen may have about what their future might hold.

Are there common signs of depression you notice with teens?

What strategies do you like to use to help your teen cope with feelings of depression?

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Article by

Trevor Sullivan, MA, RP

Registered Psychotherapist

August 24, 2020