5 minutes

Treating Teenage Depression: What Does It Look Like?

Medically Reviewed
Last Medically Reviewed on: July 15, 2023

Key Points

  • Adolescent depression is associated with a wide variety of adverse outcomes later in life
  • Symptoms of teen depression may vary depending on the type of depression and the individual
  • Lifestyle modifications may help, but are often not enough to alleviate all symptoms of depression.

Depression in children and teens can be a scary prospect for them and their families. But it can be treated with the right therapy, counseling, and medication management interventions. Depression treatment that is specifically designed for teenagers can help restore the balance in your teen’s life and your family, increase their personal sense of well-being, and establish the foundation for a healthier, more successful future.

Teen Depression Statistics

Teen mental health and the increased risk of suicide have undergone a significant amount of scrutiny over the last few years. Official studies indicate that adolescent depression is associated with a wide variety of adverse outcomes later in life, including suicide, reduced social functioning, poor hygiene, and suboptimal mental health.[1]

According to the 2023 rankings provided by Mental Health America’s study on the State of Mental Health In America, it was reported that 16% of US teens from the age of 12 to 17 (which accounts for more than four million teens) reported experiencing at least one major depressive episode in the previous year.

On the other end of the spectrum, over 11% of that same age group (which accounts for nearly 3 million teens) report experiencing a major depressive disorder that brings severe impairment in one or more areas of life.

Nearly 60% of teens who suffer from major depression across the nation did not report receiving any form of mental health treatment, and only 28% of teens received some form of consistent care.[2]

What Causes Depression In Teens?

There are four primary elements that are considered increased risk factors that can cause depression in teens.

  • A family history of depression (psychosocial or learned behaviors)
  • A genetic predisposition (naturally inherited)
  • Exposure to trauma or chronic stressful life events
  • Environmental influences such as peer pressure, bullying, or abuse[3]

If any or all of these components are in place, the teen would be at increased risk of developing a major depressive disorder, mood disorder or exhibiting depression symptoms.

The Different Types of Depression

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5) requires at least five of the primary depressive symptoms to be present for a depression diagnosis to be given. However, there are several different types of depression that may manifest in slightly different ways or at different times.

For example, Major Depressive Disorder is associated with physical and cognitive symptoms that can manifest at any time, whereas Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is usually only present during certain times of the year.

Perinatal Depression is found before or after a patient has given birth, whereas Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) presents as severe depression before the menstrual cycle.

There is also Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD) which is characterized by chronic daily depression as well as Atypical Depression, where the symptoms are not characterized by the usual symptoms.

Identifying The Warning Signs and Symptoms of Depression In Your Teen

While each patient’s experience will be unique to their individual circumstances, there are several common hallmark symptoms that can help you or your teen identify the presence of depression.

  • Oversleeping or sleeping at odd times
  • Low self-esteem
  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
  • Frequent depressive episodes
  • Oversensitive behavior
  • Sudden loss of interest in beloved hobbies
  • Withdrawing from friends and extracurricular activities
  • Suicidal ideations or being consumed by the thought of dying
  • Trouble focusing
  • Over-expression of guilt
  • Sudden lack of responsibility
  • Frequent crying
  • Unexplained physical symptoms
  • Rebellion

What It Looks Like To Treat Teen Depression

what teenage depression looks like

For teens struggling with depression, mood disorders, or suicidal thoughts, it may be time to see a mental health professional to explore targeted and evidence-based treatment options.

How is Teen Depression is Diagnosed

There is no conclusive test to determine the presence of teen depression. However, mental healthcare professionals will conduct interviews and other psychological evaluations. These assessments will include the teen, their immediate family members, academic teachers, and possibly even their peers.

The intent of these interviews is to determine the severity of their depressive disorder, the presence of any co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety, bipolar disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or substance use, and to establish the potential risk of suicide or self-harm. Based on these tests and evaluations, an individualized treatment plan will be developed to suit each patient’s unique needs.

When facing adolescent depression, the natural response can be to hide it out of fear, shame, or a sense of worthlessness. But getting support from mental healthcare professionals can provide practical resources for alleviating the symptoms of depression.

Medication Management

Prescribing antidepressant medications may be part of your teen’s treatment plan, depending on their individual needs. After a comprehensive evaluation, a licensed therapist may prescribe one of the two medications approved by the FDA for treating teen depression, fluoxetine (Prozac®) and escitalopram (Lexapro®).

The purpose of medication management is to monitor side effects in depressed teens and determine if the prescription is proving effective. Regular follow-up appointments will be needed in this treatment plan.


Psychotherapy or talk therapy is a form of interpersonal therapy in the field of adolescent psychiatry. This approach helps teens identify unhealthy behaviors, overcome obstacles, learn practical coping skills, and improve their quality of life.

Other effective therapies include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Interviewing (MI), and group therapy.

Group Therapy

Peer pressure can have both a positive and negative impact, depending on the setting and the intent. When treating teen depression, group therapy is a valuable resource that allows teens to practice their coping skills, see their circumstances from a different perspective, and learn from the experiences of others.

Family Therapy

Engaging the whole family unit in treatment is essential for the success of treatment for a teen exhibiting signs of depression. They will rely on their support network to be equipped to help them through difficult times and remind them of the coping skills they’ve learned, and ensure they have access to all the tools and resources they need.
Family therapy is also a helpful outlet for family members to seek guidance and support as they make themselves available to help the depressed teen.

Lifestyle Modifications

As with many mental health conditions and unhealthy patterns, it can be difficult to change your habits. However, by modifying how you live your life, you may experience consistent relief, even when not attending treatment.

While lifestyle modifications alone are not a holistically complete treatment, they can be effective at reducing symptoms. Here are a few lifestyle modifications you or a loved one can make to reduce symptoms and improve your quality of life.[4]

  • Engage in physical activity
  • Make healthy dietary changes
  • Be sure to get enough sleep
  • Maintain healthy relationships
  • Practice mindfulness and meditation
  • Avoid any drugs or alcohol
  • Cut back on caffeine

Treatment Programs

Teen patients will receive dedicated support, treatment, therapy, and counseling as part of a comprehensive treatment program. Depending on the severity of the depressive disorder, the teen may require inpatient treatment or hospitalization.

In less severe cases, a daily outpatient program, such as Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) or an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), will be sufficient. After one of these more in-depth treatment programs is completed, outpatient treatment plans will be implemented for long-term support, and an aftercare plan developed for when you reach the follow-up stage of recovery.

If you or a loved one are experiencing any or all of these symptoms, you may find relief and healing with professional treatment. 

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Frequently Asked Questions About Depression in Teens

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding teenage depression.

Official studies report that there are four primary causes of teen depression, both internal and external:

  • Genetic markers
  • Family history of depression
  • Trauma exposure (chronic or otherwise)
  • External influences (verbal, physical, or sexual abuse, bullying, neglect, or insurmountable peer pressure)

The most effective treatment for teen depression is psychotherapy and counseling paired with medication management and group support. An individualized treatment plan must be developed to determine what level of treatment is needed and what specific interventions will be most effective. 


Three of the most effective strategies for coping with depression are to engage in physical exercise, be sure to get enough rest, and incorporate mindfulness and meditation into your daily routine. 

There are a number of warning signs to look for if you think you may be depressed:

  • Sleep disruption
  • Low self-esteem and a sense of worthlessness
  • Rapid weight gain or weight loss
  • Oversensitive behavior
  • Sudden loss of interest in beloved hobbies
  • Withdrawing from friends and activities
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • Morbid levels of guilt
  • Preoccupation with dying
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Frequent crying
  • Physical aches and pains that you can’t explain
  • Rebellious actions and behaviors

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[1]Maughan, B., Collishaw, S., & Stringaris, A. (2013, February). Depression in childhood and adolescence. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry = Journal de l’Academie canadienne de psychiatrie de l’enfant et de l’adolescent. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from 

[2]Youth Data 2023. Mental Health America. (n.d.). Retrieved March 20, 2023, from 

[3]Maughan, B., Collishaw, S., & Stringaris, A. (2013, February). Depression in childhood and adolescence. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry = Journal de l’Academie canadienne de psychiatrie de l’enfant et de l’adolescent. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from 

[4] Sarris, J., O’Neil, A., Coulson, C. E., Schweitzer, I., & Berk, M. (2014, April 10). Lifestyle Medicine for Depression. BMC psychiatry. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from