Recognizing Adolescent Depression

Many people do not recognize that adolescent depression does not look the same as adult depression.  The symptoms are often different and are often misinterpreted as “attitude” or “behavioral” problems.  The following is a list of symptoms specific to depression in teens:


1)          The language of the depressed teen is often negative and words such as: stupid, sucks, annoying, and hate dominate their vocabulary.

2)          The interaction between the depressed teen his/her world is often negative as displayed through sarcasm, criticism of others, irritability, being very bothered by things that should be minor inconveniences.

3)          Depressed teens are filled with negative thoughts about their lives (my life stinks,) themselves (I’m such a loser,) others (everyone is just stupid and annoying,) and the future (nothing is going to ever work out for me.)

4)          Depressed teens tend to think in negative extremes.  If something is not great, then it is awful.  If  something does not taste good, then it is just nasty.  If one person does not like them, then everyone hates them.  If they do one thing wrong, they are just stupid.

5)          Depression is not a feeling.  It is a mood which affects the way teens think, feel, and react to their environment.  Depressed teens are not necessarily depressed about anything specific, just depressed about most things in general.

6)          Depressed teens have cognitive problems like difficulty concentrating, problems maintaining motivation, and struggle when it comes to activating themselves towards their goals.

7)          Depressed teens experience a wide range of emotions that trouble them.  They often feel hopeless, overwhelmed, and apathetic, stuck, and out of touch with their joy.

8)          Adolescents who are depressed may experience physical symptoms of depression such as stomachaches, headaches, problems sleeping, feeling tired.

9)          Depressed adolescents often do not have the energy to maintain good relationships with family and friends.  People close to them often get upset that the teen is in such a bad mood and might mistakenly think the depressed teen is “mad at them.”  Therefore, the support system of the depressed teen is often disrupted.


(The above was compiled by Janice Gabe, LCSW, LCAC and is taken from her book “Mood Disorders and Substance Abuse in Teens,” 2003.)