How to recognize depression in teenagers


How can you recognize depression in your teenager when every teen is moody sometimes? GMA Parenting contributor and author Ann Pleshette Murphy explains the difference between typical teen mood swings and actual depression.

How to recognize depression in teenagers

It’s tough to pick up on on the signs of teen depression and tell the difference between depression and normal teenage mood swings because teenagers do have such dramatic mood swings, often caused by hormones.

Physical signs of teen depression

  • Eating habits can be a signal. Are they eating the same way, gaining or losing weight rapidly?
  • Changes in sleep patterns can be a symptom. If they sleep long hours or odd hours or are unbelievably lethargic or unmotivated, or if they are indifferent toward things they used to love doing, those are signs.
Seeking professional help
  • Tell your teen that her mental health is as important to you as her physical health, and that just as you would take her to a doctor if she had a physical problem, when you have depression, that's an illness that is helped by going to talk to a mental health care professional.
  • Teen depression is more like adult depression than younger kids' depression. Children will often act out and regress, and it’s hard to pick it up as depression. Teens, though, have symptoms more like adults. For example, teenage depression in boys can be masked by anger and rage.
  • It’s critical that you talk to your teen. If he talks about feeling empty, about a loss of interest in things that used to excite him, those are signs. And of course if he feels worthless and feels he has no reason to live, don’t hesitate to get an opinion from a professional.
  • It can be tricky to talk to teenager because sometimes when you press, they back away. Again, you can start by trying to talk to her, even talking about your own experiences when you were an adolescent or with depression. You can say, "I'm worried about you, and you may not want to talk to me, but I want you to talk to someone."
  • Another really good source can be your teen's friends. If he has a close friend you can communicate with, you can tell the friend that you’re worried about your teen and ask if he has seen any changes that might indicate depression.
  • Don't hestitate to seek professional advice.

KATRINA: I'm Katrina Szish for Joining me now is Ann Pleshette Murphey, parenting expert and author of The Seven Steps of Motherhood. Hi Ann nice to see you.

ANN: Nice to be here.

KATRINA: How can you tell if your teenager is just moody like many of them tend to be or actually depressed?

ANN: Well it's tough because they do in fact go through really dramatic mood swings at that age and a lot of it has to do with hormones and with all the things they're struggling with. But if you know your kid you will be able to pick up on, first of all physical signs. Are they eating the same way, are they suddenly gaining weight or losing a lot of weight? It's very important to pay attention to. Sleep patterns are very important to pay attention to, if they are sleeping really long hours or odd hours or they just seem unbelievable lethargic and unmotivated. Again some of the things they used to find interesting are suddenly you find they have no interest for them. These are really important symptoms of depression. But it's critical that you get a mental health professional to give you advice because teenagers do differ. It's also important to send the message to your teenager that if there's a physical problem, if you hurt yourself, we would send you to the doctor. You know depression is a perfectly normal part of life and therefore your mental healthcare really matters to us and when you are depressed it really helps to talk to someone.

KATRINA: So those warning signs that you mentioned are they the same as they would be in adults or are they a little bit different because obviously we're talking about a teenager?

ANN: I think they are closer to adults than they are to children. Children also get depressed but with kids you often see a lot more of acting out or what we call regressing back to a stage that was much earlier. And again those are hard things to pick up sometimes in kids. But with teenagers you do see the kind of mood swings. With boys you can see a lot of rage, you know sometimes depression is masked by a lot of anger. And again there are things that they may feel normally, but if you can get them to talk about whether they feel really empty. You know if they feel that they're not interested in things that they used to be interested in. What are some of the things that seem to be coming up. And of course if they are talking about feeling worthless, feeling they have no point to live or if they are saying things that worry you, do not hesitate to get an opinion from a professional.

KATRINA: But how do you if you're noticing these warning signs, how do you approach them without making them back away further from you?

ANN: Well you should start by trying to talk to them. You can even talk about your own experiences when you were an adolescent or with depression. And you can say I'm worried about you and you may not want to talk to me but I want you to talk to someone. The other really good source is first of all their friends. And if they have a close friend that you can communicate with, you know I think sometimes a friend can be told, look I'm worried, I know you spend a lot of time together. Have you picked up on any changes cause we are concerned.

KATRINA: Okay Ann Pleshette Murphey, thank you so much for all of your great advice.

ANN: Thanks.

meet theexpert
  • Ann Pleshette

    Ann Pleshette Parenting Contributor, Good Morning America, ABC Ann Pleshette Murphy has been the Parenting Contributor for Good Morning America since November 1998, and her “American Family” segments are a recurring feature on GMA. Murphy is the author of The 7 Stages of Motherhood: Loving Your Life Without Losing Your Mind (Anchor Books) and travels the country speaking to mothers’ groups about such themes as striking a balance between work and family, wrestling with guilt and setting loving limits. She was Editor-in-Chief of Parents magazine from 19 more about this expert »

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