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Typically Moody or Something More? How to Tell if Your Teen is Depressed

There are few parents who haven’t heard “ you just don’t understand” amid the ups and downs of raising a teen. And the truth of it is, sometimes our kids are right.

It is tough work negotiating and navigating the maze of adolescent anxiety, increasing demands for independence, and the perils of peers and dramatic romances.

But it’s all to be expected for most of us. After all, one upon a time, we’ve been there and done that.

Yet, you might be getting the feeling that, for your child, something more intense and upsetting is happening. Something less moody and more oppressive.

It seems to be getting harder and harder for your teen to operate beyond sadness, anger, and withdrawal.

Negativity seems the norm and the smile and sparkle that used to breakthrough often are barely shining through at all.

In fact, you’re very sure that “ you don’t understand” what’s happening. And that’s okay.  Because all that means is that it’s time to get beneath your child’s behavior to take a closer look at what’s going on inside.


  1. Get curious (educate yourself about depression and ask questions).
  2. Get help. ( depression doesn’t fade away on its own).

Let’s start with number one:

1. Significant Signs of Teenage Depression to Notice and Address:

“I suck.”  

Is your teen struggling with a sense of worthlessness?

How your teen talks about him or herself is key. Some self-consciousness is to be expected during the awkward years, but depression can be brutal on self-esteem. Pay attention to whether your teen puts down down their looks, academic ability, or social status. Are they  overwhelmed by criticism or correction. Is their response to rejection, loss, or failure highly self critical and quickly followed by deep sadness?


Does your teen express feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness?

This is pervasive sense that nothing seems worth the effort. Your teen may seem to give up on most things before they start or offer disclaimers like “what’s the point?” or that there’s “nothing anyone can do” to make things better. It’s crucial to carefully listen to your teen. Is there talk of escaping or giving up? If so or you have any inkling that your teen is in danger, act now. Any hint of suicidal thinking must be immediately addressed. Don’t wait.

“I don’t care.

Is your teen dealing with feelings of meaninglessness?

Depression can suck the motivation from a teen. “What’s the point” can become a mantra you hear all too often. Former pleasures, accomplishments, and connection are no longer reason enough to leave their bedrooms. Your teen may even quit favorite their teams or activities, shirk goals and responsibilities, or let their grades slide.

It is also important to note that for some teens depression looks like indifference or rebellion. They may be trying to deal with a pervasive sense of apathy by pursuing risky behavior or acting out in ways they never have before.

“I’m better off alone.” 

Is your teen consistently withdrawing from others?

Moody teens disconnect with headphones and a sad song every once and awhile. Depressed teens often withdraw from those they care about physically and emotionally.

Some young people do this by changing peer groups entirely. Many simply withdraw from parents or immediate family at home.  Others have to be dragged from under the covers every day for meals and showers. Whatever the behavior, pay close attention to claims that they “just want to be alone” all the time.

“I hate you!”

Does your teen lash out or exhibit hostile behavior?

Many times depression looks more like aggression than sadness. Especially among boys. If you find you are dealing with an inordinate amount of irritability or bursts of anger, look deeper.  Consider depression rather than poor manners when your teen demonstrates a tendency to be continually short-tempered, defensive, and unable to employ much emotional control. If safety is a concern, seek  help right away. Don’t wait.

“I’m sick.” 

Has your teen experiences unexplained pain or ongoing, unresolved illness?

When teens can’t reach and resolve the pain in their hearts and minds, they often settle for something physical. They are necessarily making it up, they just know they feel terrible.

Has your teen made numerous trips to the doctor for mysterious health issues or recurring symptoms? Is your teen lethargic, sleep deprived, or often bothered by headaches and stomach trouble? Your teen’s trips to the doctor could be their way of coping with unrelenting emotional pain.

Do these symptoms seem familiar? If so, it’s time to reach out.

Teen depression is treatable. Even if your teen denies the pain they are suffering. Regardless, let your teen know you’re there and you will do what it takes to help.

That’s number two. Get help now.

2. Partner with a Patient, Compassionate  Professional

Counsel is a critical part of addressing depression early and thoroughly. Consider mental health therapy as vital as medical attention for an excruciating open wound. If your teen is hurting deeply then they simply need your help. Don’t wait or  “hope for the best.”

With support, you can provide your teen a means toward valuing themselves and accepting help.

Contact me so that I can partner with you to help provide the tools necessary for helping your teen manage depression throughout the teen years and beyond. All they want is to find a way to feel good again. All you want is to see them happy and whole. Read more about the road back to both on my Adolescent Counseling page. Let’s start the journey together.

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