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Depression in teenagers

3-minute read

One in 4 young people are affected by mental health problems and disorders. Those aged 18 to 24 have the highest prevalence of mental disorders of any age group.

Key points about depression in adolescence

  • Depression in this age group should be taken seriously. Youth suicide is the leading cause of death in this age group.
  • It can be hard to distinguish adolescent turmoil from depressive illness, especially as the young person is also forging new roles within the family and struggling with independence, and academic and career decisions.
  • Both biological and developmental factors contribute to depression in adolescence. If bipolar disorder or psychosis is suspected biological causes would need to be examined. Read about bipolar disorder.
  • In identifying difficulties, it can help to consider some of the areas that the adolescent is dealing with: school, family, peer group and intimate and/or sexual relationships and sexuality.

Signs of depression in an adolescent

An adolescent who is depressed may not show obvious signs of depression. Instead, they may start to behave uncharacteristically, for example by:

  • becoming socially withdrawn
  • falling in their performance at school
  • engaging in risk-taking behaviour (for example reckless driving, inappropriate sexual involvements)
  • engaging in drug and alcohol abuse
  • not sleeping
  • being very grumpy, irritable or upset most of the time
  • being on edge and restless
  • losing interest in things they used to enjoy
  • withdrawing and losing friends
  • refusing to eat, or gaining a lot of weight
  • having physical problems including sore muscles, unexplained aches and pains
  • not wanting to go to school or work

If you have noticed a change in their behaviour, it’s happening frequently and has gone on for more than 2 weeks, and it’s affecting their day to day life, then it is a good idea to seek help.

Where to get help for an adolescent

If you think your son or daughter, or someone you are close to, might be depressed, the first step is to take them to a doctor. The doctor will conduct an assessment that may involve assessing the young person on their own, with their parents or carers, or both. This will depend on the age and maturity of the young person and the wishes of those involved.

The doctor will offer advice about managing the situation which may include lifestyle changes. The doctor may refer the young person onto a psychologist. They could also speak to the guidance officer or counsellor at your child's school.

Sometimes the adolescent may not want to seek help. In this case it's best to explain that you are concerned and perhaps also provide them with some information to read about depression. It's important for them to know that depression is a common problem and that there are people who can help.

There are also some excellent websites designed for young people, as well as online and telephone counselling services. These include:

  • Kids Helpline (counselling service) 1800 55 1800.
  • MindSpot Clinic (anyone suffering from anxiety or depression) — call 1800 61 44 34.
  • Beyond Blue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) — call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
  • Black Dog Institute (people affected by depression and extreme mood swings) — online help.
  • Lifeline (anyone experiencing a crisis or thinking about suicide) — call 13 11 14 or chat online.
  • Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) — call 1300 659 467.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2020

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