Identifying Depression in Teens and Children

July 16, 2018

young woman looking at phone upset

It’s no secret that teens can be a bit moody and impulsive. Even the straight-A, honor roll student may do something from time to time which leaves their parents scratching their heads wondering, what were they thinking? But there’s a legitimate reason why teenagers can act in such a confusing manner – their brains are in the process of developing.

We know now that the human brain isn’t fully developed until our twenties, so it makes sense that children and teens can sometimes act in a way that may seem confusing or irrational to adults. However, problems can arise when we dismiss certain behaviors as being “just a phase” when in reality they’re a sign of a deeper issue – and with depression in young people on the rise, it’s especially important to not overlook the warning signs.

Prevalence of Depression in Teens and Children

Studies have shown that roughly 20% of teens experience depression before reaching adulthood. And while depression in children is less common, still, it’s estimated that one out of every 40 kids has depression.

Another study found an increase in the number of young people (aged 12 – 20) who experienced a Major Depressive Episode (MDE) within the previous 12 months. In this study, a MDE was considered to be a period of at least two weeks where a low mood is present in most situations. Symptoms included low self-esteem, loss of interest in once enjoyed activities, sleep issues, low energy, and trouble concentrating.

In 2005, 8.7% of teens experienced a Major Depressive Episode in the past 12 months, compared to 11.5% of teens in 2014 – a 37% increase in less than a decade.

Identifying Symptoms  of Depression in Teens and Children

Identifying depression symptoms can be challenging. According to the Mayo Clinic, keep an eye out for emotional changes such as:

  • Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Feeling hopeless or empty
  • Irritable or annoyed mood, which can include feelings of frustration or anger over minor things
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities, including social isolation
  • Low self-esteem, which can include self-blame and self-criticism
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide

Also, look for behavioral or physical changes that may indicate your child or teen is suffering from depression:

  • Changes in sleep- sleeping too much or too little, low energy level
  • Changes in appetite — decreased or increased appetite and weight changes
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Agitation or restlessness — for example, pacing, hand-wringing or an inability to sit still
  • “Brain fog” or slowed thinking
  • Somatic complaints such as headaches or body aches
  • Poor school performance or frequent absences from school
  • Neglected appearance
  • Self-harm — for example, cutting, burning, or excessive piercing or tattooing
  • Making a suicide plan or attempt

It can be difficult to distinguish between the expected emotional highs and lows that come with growing up, and signs of a deeper issue. A great way to test the waters is to simply talk to your child. If you think your child may need some extra help and you’d like to learn about Neurocore’s med-free depression program, give us a call at 800.600.4096.

Gregoire, Carolyn. (2015. June 14). “Why Are Teens So Moody And Impulsive? This Neuroscientist Has The Answer.” Retrieved from
Schrobsdorff, Susanna. (2016, November 16). “There’s a Startling Increase in Major Depression Among Teens in the U.S.” Retrieved from
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017, August 17). “Teen Depression.” Retrieved from
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