How to Help Your Teenager with Depression

Depressive disorders affect well over 13 percent of teens in the US, representing a growing number of adolescents growing up with periods of abnormally low mood and fatigue. Understanding why depression occurs, what it looks like, and how it can be treated is important for any modern parent.

While therapists and mental health professionals are critical partners when helping your teen face their struggles, a parent’s role is still the most important when it comes to supporting teenagers and helping them rise to the challenges of adulthood while battling depression. 

Understand What Depression Looks Like

Depression, or major depressive disorder, is one of the most commonly diagnosed mood disorders and mental health issues in the world. It is characterized by a persistently low mood, and feelings of physical and mental fatigue, lasting at least two weeks. Depressive episodes aren’t always triggered by loss or trauma, but can be exacerbated by past and ongoing stressors. 

Many teenagers who struggle with depression cannot clearly articulate why they feel the way they do and might not even be able to pinpoint a cause or date of onset – the feeling simply starts and doesn’t go away for a long time. 

Separating depression from normal sadness or the typical growing pains of adolescence can be difficult, but there are a few telltale signs. Depressive episodes are always more severe than what the average teen goes through, as well as long-lasting. 

Some common elements in depression that might not always be present in regular sadness include:

  • loss of energy and willingness to engage in old hobbies or fun activities
  • loss of joy or happiness (anhedonia)
  • unexplained recurring aches and pains
  • a sharp decline or increase in appetite, and associated weight loss/gain
  • trouble falling asleep, and a hard time waking up

Another common element is the feeling of hopelessness. A teen with depression will, more than just melodramatically, assume that they’re dead weight to others, or that they are unloved or unwanted. They will feel guilty for minor mistakes and might talk about feelings of worthlessness.  

Some more severe symptoms sometimes associated with long-term depression include signs of self-harm and suicidal ideation, both of which require the immediate attention of a mental health professional. 

Depression Comes in Many Forms

Not all types of depression are the same. Alongside major depressive disorder, some of the most common types of depression include persistent depression, seasonal affective disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder

Persistent depression is a form of depression with milder symptoms, but a much longer duration. A teen who struggles with persistent depression might not have intense bouts of depression over multiple years but will feel consistently low mood and low energy for at least two years. 

Sometimes, persistent depression can fly under the radar as a teen simply becomes less outgoing and appears more withdrawn or distant with age, while struggling with more fatigue and less general happiness. It’s important to talk with your teen and understand how they’re feeling on a regular basis. 

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that is usually triggered by the shift in weather as things approach winter. Also known as the winter blues, it is a legitimate mental health disorder characterized by a crashing mood during the winter months. Some of it is attributable to holiday stressors, and another element may be a lack of endogenous vitamin D from sunlight. 

Among other treatments like therapy and medication, seasonal affective disorder can be treated with phototherapy, utilizing a special UV lamp in the morning hours. 

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder is a more severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) characterized by a severe drop in mood during the week or two before a woman’s period starts. It is also characterized by a sharp increase in anxiety and irritability, and often requires medication. 

Alongside PMDD, adolescent depression can also be triggered by other physical conditions, including thyroid conditions, abnormal growths, and chronic pain disorders. 

Understand How Depression is Treated

Depression is treated with two concurrent elements: medication and therapy. Some types of depression are treated with other modalities – such as phototherapy, birth control, and hormone treatments – but the first-line treatment for most signs of adolescent depression are antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Antidepressants are a wide-ranging class of drugs, usually involving selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, as well as alternative and older antidepressants.

Each class of antidepressants functions a little differently, and among them, there are many different branded formulations that achieve the same effect through different pathways. The general idea with any antidepressant, however, is to correct or compensate for an issue in a teen’s chemical neurotransmission, such as by making serotonin more readily available in the brain. 

However, therapy is just as important as medication. A teen’s treatment will always depend on the severity and nature of their symptoms, as well as their diagnosis and concurrent health issues, mental or physical. Therapy is the most well-tolerated treatment of all, involving two or more people having a guided and productive conversation.

In cognitive-behavioral therapy, the most common type of talk therapy, a therapist helps a teen identify and differentiate unwanted or misguided thoughts, and actively work on introducing healthier, more positive thoughts, thereby affecting and altering their behavior for the better as well.

This type of therapy works on the principle that thoughts guide actions, and that we can work on changing the way we think by becoming more aware of our thought patterns and the beliefs we hold about ourselves. 

Helping a Teen with Depression

One of the most important elements of support is support for a teen’s treatment. Parents should work with their teen’s healthcare providers to help them stay on track with their medication and appointments, and encourage them to work on lessons learned in therapy, from trying out new and different coping mechanisms, to encourage them to pick up old interests and hobbies and do things they enjoy. Building a teen’s self-esteem starts with helping them get good at something they like doing, and encouraging them to pursue it. 

Support also means being patient. It takes time for both medication and therapy to begin working, and it can take time for a teen to internalize what they’ve learned. Depressive symptoms can be reduced over time through a consistent and individualized treatment approach, and it’s more effective the earlier depression is diagnosed and treated. 

If your teen is showing telltale signs of a depressive episode, don’t be afraid to talk to them about it. They may have been waiting for the right opportunity to open up, or don’t know how or where to ask for help. They might not know why they feel the way they do, or are afraid of being labeled. Work with them to get them the help they need – and learn more about how you can support them. 


7 Warning Signs of Adolescent Depression

There are several common warning signs of adolescent depression. Adolescent depression affects an estimated 13 percent of teens aged 12 to 17 across the United States, particularly affecting older adolescents and those with negative school experiences and less authoritative households. 

Unlike general sadness, depressive disorders are characterized by long-lasting and persistent low mood, loss of interest in activities, fatigue, and a combination of other physical and emotional symptoms. While the factors behind depression are complex and often hereditary, the trigger for its onset can be anything from parental pressure to academic expectations, a traumatic event, a codependent condition, or age. 

Warning Signs of Adolescent Depression

The pandemic has only made matters worse, affecting teens especially through the closure of schools and social spaces. Even as we move towards an eventual post-pandemic “new normal”, it’s important to take care of our mental health, and of the mental health of our children. 

Recognizing adolescent depression early can help us equip our teens with the means to combat growing symptoms, reduce the onset of other mental health issues, and provide an important framework for seeking support and stability later in life. 

Here are seven common warning signs of adolescent depression.

Irregular Sleeping Schedule

Some teens struggle with sleep more than others, but a common mark of depression is an inconsistent sleep schedule that often includes long periods of restlessness and insomnia, and chronic oversleeping. Teens struggling with depressive thoughts may lie awake for hours unable to fall asleep, only to struggle to get out of bed – even staying in until noon or longer on the weekends. 

When observing your teen’s sleeping routines, take note of how long they tend to stay in bed after waking up. Another common hallmark of depression is that it makes even the little things (like a change of clothing or getting up out of bed) seem insurmountably difficult. 

If your teen spends multiple hours on school-free days remaining in bed even after they’ve woken up, they’re not just trying to avoid their chores or laze around. They might be stuck in a deep, dark place. 

Irritability and Mood Changes

Teens are known for mood shifts, and they are more likely to be irritable than the average adult. But depression-related mood changes transcend the angry teen stereotype. 

If your teen has completely unprovoked and random outbursts and struggles heavily with maintaining a positive mood – to the point where their mood typically fluctuates between sad and frustrated, with few notes in between – they may be going through something difficult. 

Loss of Interest in Other Hobbies

It’s perfectly normal to grow out of your hobbies as you get older, but it’s an entirely different thing to fall off most interests completely. 

One of the hallmark characteristics of depression is that it is immensely tiring, to the point that it can leave you too tired and disinterested to pick up and do the things you used to love doing, from cooking to drawing, or in some cases, even playing video games or reading books. 

This is especially true for social hobbies – depression can lead teens to back away from doing the things they used to love doing with others. Some teens pick up other hobbies, while some don’t, and instead spend more time isolating themselves. It’s important to remember that one of the most devastating elements of a depressive disorder is anhedonia, or the inability to feel joy. 

Physical and Mental Fatigue

Teens with depression are much more tired than their peers, regardless of how well or long they slept or rested. They’re low energy, struggling to keep up with their friends, perform academic tasks, study, do their work, or even find the energy to hang out with friends. 

They might keep up well enough to mask their symptoms for some time, but their behavior might still feel off, as though they’re struggling to be present and awake

In many cases, it’s part of the mental toll that depression takes on both the mind and the body. But in other cases, severe fatigue may be a sign that a teen’s depression could be related to their thyroid function, or another physical condition, such as a chronic pain disorder. 

Unexplained Pain

Depression increases the body’s sensitivity to pain (making existing pain stronger) and reduces the body’s threshold for pain (making more pain noticeable). 

This can lead to unexplained aches and pains tied to a teen’s mood and mental state – even without any obvious physical symptoms, a teen can experience somatic pain as a result of their depression.

Inversely, combatting depressive symptoms can have a marked improvement on a teen’s pain, to the point where antidepressants and the pain-relieving (and mood-improving) mechanisms of dopamine are important pain management tools for physical conditions like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. 

Feeling Inadequate and Mentioning Suicide

A generalized bleak outlook on life, repeatedly making statements about being or feeling useless, commenting on how no one would notice if they were gone, or even joking about, mocking, or frequently mentioning suicide are just a few of the common signs of teenage depression. 

By projecting their sadness through daily conversations and through their outlook on life, teens can try to call attention to how they feel while verbalizing what depression feels like – a dark voice amplifying every negative thing while drowning out every hint of hope. 

Self-Harm and Physical Neglect

Another common form of negative self-expression for teens is self-harm. Physical self-harm also becomes a short-term maladaptive coping mechanism for some teens. 

Cutting, burning, or scratching themselves elicits a burst of pain followed by pain-relieving endogenous endorphins, neurotransmitters that essentially dull the pain and make us feel good for a brief period. 

This can create a toxic feedback loop where a teen seeks to hurt themselves in order to experience a short burst of euphoria. 

Physical neglect, on the other hand, often goes hand-in-hand with the overwhelming fatigue that follows other depressive symptoms. Teens may have a hard time convincing themselves to get a shower or a change of clothes or clean their surroundings. Doing so can, in an inverse way, positively affect their outlook and help fight symptoms of depression. 

While these are some of the most common signs of teen depression, it’s important to note that no two cases are exactly alike and that there are many subtle ways in which even seemingly happy or well-adjusted teens can be suffering from dark and intrusive depressive thinking. 

It’s important to pay attention and listen to your teen, follow the subtext of their behavior, and ask them how they’re doing from time to time. Getting help for your teen as early as possible will give them the best possible outlook on defeating anxiety and depressive symptoms.


Is Your Teen Depressed or an Introvert?

Is your teen depressed or an introvert?

What some parents might interpret as gloomy behavior, others might recognize as an alternative approach to comfort and contentment. Introversion is a personality trait that is best defined as a preference for fewer social engagements, smaller friend groups, and more time spent alone. 

Introverts aren’t necessarily obsessed with solitude, and they need the warmth of another human being in their life as much as anyone else. But they cherish their emotional comfort zone and are certainly less outgoing than their extroverted counterparts. 

An introverted teen is not any less capable of social interaction on a one-on-one level. Neither are they automatically struggling with dark, depressing thoughts, or horrid anxiety. However, introversion can correlate with both depression and anxiety, and some researchers believe this may tie into how introverted thinking and behavior often lead to more self-critical thought. 

But it can be a slippery slope, especially when parents and teachers begin to suspect and label introverted behavior as a sign of depression, or another mental health issue. Learning to differentiate between the two is important. 

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at a common question – Is my teen depressed or an introvert?

Is Your Teen Depressed or an Introvert?

There’s no one to blame in this. Some people are inclined to feel better when they have a place to withdraw to and can minimize their interactions with others. On the other hand, it’s natural for parents to worry that such behavior can have a long-term impact on a teen’s mental wellbeing, their relationships with others, and their communicative skills. 

There are a lot of parallels to draw between introversion and depression, especially in the eyes of more extroverted people. Seeing someone deliberately going out of their way to avoid going out with friends, meeting new people, or having fun at parties and get-togethers doesn’t seem healthy. 

But introverted preferences are hereditary and might even be explained physiologically through differences in inherent dopamine levels

So, how can a parent or friend recognize and differentiate depression from an inherent desire to spend less time around other people? 

Depression has many other markers and signs that point towards it and differentiate it from normal introverted behavior. Looking for these markers can help you better understand if your teen is truly okay, or if they’re trying to hide their worries. 

So, is your teen depressed or an introvert?

What is Clinical Depression?

Being diagnosed with depression and feeling depressed are two separate things. Psychiatry makes a point of clearly differentiating between feeling sad – a normal and important emotion – and depression, which is characterized by abnormally long bouts of sadness, anhedonia (inability to feel joy), hopelessness, and low self-worth (even when others around you provide love and affirmation). 

Clinical depression, or major depressive disorder, is the most commonly diagnosed mood disorder in the US and can also be considered the “main” type of depression. But depression can come in many different forms, including seasonal depression (or the winter blues), PMDD, dysthymia, and bipolar disorder. 

The main characteristics of a depressive disorder are fatigue and inescapable sadness. It may be episodic, or it can ever-present, with different waves of intensity. For some people, it can last a few months, with severe thoughts of self-hatred and suicidal ideation. For others, it’s like a constant hum over years. 

Wanting to be alone can be a sign of depression, but extroverts can be depressed too. While looking for signs and symptoms is important, and recognizing them is crucial, we should take a moment to remember that there is no clear-cut definition of what a depressed person should look like. The disorder can manifest itself in different ways, and symptoms can be masked or exacerbated by other, related conditions, from severe anxiety to substance use. 

Recognizing Depression in Your Teen

The signs and symptoms of a depressive disorder depend on a teen’s environment, personality, and other potential mental health issues. The most common signs can include: 

  • Irregular and unhealthy sleeping habits (sleeping in too much, as well as insomnia). 
  • Being visibly sad over weeks with no improvement in mood. 
  • Indescribable fatigue, even simple tasks seem impossible (getting out of bed, showering). 
  • Frequently discussing or bringing up topics of death and suicide. 
  • Joking or making serious statements about one’s own uselessness. 
  • Talking about not being missed. 
  • Being unresponsive to shows of affection or affirmation. 
  • Slower decision-making, struggling to pay attention at school. 
  • Irritability and frustration, particularly towards oneself. 
  • Signs of self-harm (cutting, burning, biting, hair-tearing, etc.)
  • Isolating frequently. 
  • Avoiding old hobbies and friends. 
  • Constantly seeming “drained”. 
  • And more. 

Teens may be more prone to both introversion and depression following months of isolation during the pandemic. 

What Does It Mean to Be Introverted?

While we can link introversion and depression, there’s no reason to believe that one causes the other. The correlation may be a bit more complicated than that. 

Introversion is linked to depression, with potential factors including a genetic predisposition towards mental health issues like anxiety and depression, as well as a greater incidence of self-criticism among introverted individuals. 

However, combatting and treating depression does not mean trying to change your personality. An introverted teen will not become extroverted as a result of their treatment, and treatment for depression is not “treatment for introversion”. 

Is Introversion Normal?

Introversion is common. It is not a black-and-white state, meaning a person can have (and usually does have) both introverted and extroverted qualities. Most people share somewhat of an affinity for both, while generally leaning more towards introverted or extroverted thoughts and behavior. 

Teens who were previously extroverted may become more introverted as a result of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, they may become somewhat more extroverted after a successful recovery from depression and anxiety, although not at the same level as before. However, a teen who was introverted to begin with is unlikely to become more extroverted after recovering from a bout with depression. 

It’s not necessarily a negative thing to be introverted. While rates of anxiety and depression are higher in teens with introverted personality traits, their introversion also grants them greater self-awareness and sensitivity. 

Furthermore, we don’t have any robust evidence to suggest that low extroversion and neuroticism (the tendency to focus on the negative) compound the risk of developing mental health issues. What this means is that neuroticism may be a greater predictive factor for depression and anxiety than low or high extroversion. And teen neuroticism can be reduced during treatment, via therapeutic methods such as cognitive-behavioral therapy.


Choosing the Right Teen Depression Treatment Program

Surveys show that depression remains underdiagnosed among teenagers alone as over 3.2 million experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2017, compared to just about 2 million a decade earlier. While the data suggests that these episodes are more common in girls than boys, neither received as much treatment as they should, with only 45 percent of teenage girls and 33 percent of teenage boys getting help for their symptoms.

Major depressive disorder has been diagnosed in over 1.9 million children between the ages of 3 and 17, and depression and anxiety remain the two most diagnosed mental health disorders in the United States. Treatment for these disorders has come a long way, yet many remain confused about how to address depression at home and where to seek help. Teen depression can sometimes be mistaken for normal behavior, while in other cases, grief or typical sadness are mistaken for depression. Understanding how these conditions manifest and what sets them apart is important.

Understanding Teen Depression

Depressive disorders count as mood disorders caused or influenced by a wide variety of risk factors and potential co-occurring conditions. External and internal factors each play a significant role in mood regulation and motivation. They may contribute to the development of depression, from internal processes that affect how certain neurotransmitters are released and received to the long-term mental and neurological effects of chronic stress or sudden trauma. The defining characteristics of teen depression are a sudden loss of interest in old friends and hobbies, usually accompanied by a recurring or constant:

    • Sadness
    • Lack of energy
    • Lack of motivation
    • And physical symptoms (nagging aches, pains, and restlessness)

One of the hallmarks of teen depression is overwhelming irritability, more so than normal and more often than in adults. Teens who are depressed may suddenly become disinterested, but also more defiant and disrespectful, and unmanageably gloomy. Parents might expect a drop in academic performance, and while this is true for some cases, in other cases, the pressure to perform may fuel a teen’s depression. They may continue to perform well at school (physically and/or virtually) while feeling miserable.

Types of Teen Depression

Depressive disorders come in many shapes and sizes depending on the severity and origin of the depression and assorted symptoms. Teen depression can also be a symptom of other conditions, such as hypothyroidism or substance use disorder. These examples of secondary depression are not listed below. Furthermore, other rarer types of teen depression may also be diagnosed and are not listed.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD)

Major depressive disorder (MDD), also referred to as major depression and clinical depression, is the most diagnosed type of teen depression. This is a mental health disorder diagnosed in cases where a person displays consistently low mood and other symptoms of depression without an apparent preexisting psychiatric or medical cause for longer than two weeks. Symptoms can range in severity from struggling to feel joy to regularly experiencing suicidal ideation.

Persistent Depressive Disorder (PDD)

Persistent depressive disorder (PDD), also referred to as dysthymia, is a milder form of depression that lasts at least two years and can last a lifetime.

Seasonal Depression

Seasonal depression, also referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is characterized by symptoms being tied to a season, usually the winter, but sometimes the warmer months. Seasonal depression comes and goes, and teen depression treatment is unique in that it might address issues such as lack of natural sunlight via UV light therapy. Sometimes, seasonal depression is tied to the stress that comes from a hectic seasonal job or the financial and social strain of the holidays.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, also referred to as manic depression, is a mood disorder characterized by depression and/or mania symptoms. Different types of bipolar disorder exist depending on the severity of either depressive or manic symptoms. In some cases, mania can present itself without depression. While juxtaposed to depression, mania is not “happiness” – instead, it is a state of mental and sometimes physical hyperactivity that may be accompanied by dangerous thoughts, delusions, and insomnia. Social anxiety is also a commonly co-occurring issue.

Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is tied to a teen’s menstrual cycle, with symptoms commonly occurring during a teen’s late luteal phase and usually the last one to two weeks. PMDD is recurring and is sometimes characterized as a very severe variant of PMS.

If you or your loved one struggles with low thoughts, low motivation, mood swings, and other signs of depression, be sure to contact a medical professional.

Recognizing Teen Depression

Symptoms of teen depression differ from disorder to disorder. They may sometimes be difficult to recognize due to their similarities with common tropes of teenage behavior and their differences in adult depressive symptoms. Some of the more common symptoms of teenage depression include:

    • High irritability
    • Low self-esteem
    • Unexplained pain
    • Problems with concentration
    • Withdrawal from friends and social contact
    • Loss of appetite or starkly increased appetite
    • Loss of interest in old hobbies and no new ones
    • Frequently expressing feelings of worthlessness
    • Lethargy despite sleeping enough (cannot get out of bed)

Risk Factors for Teen Depression

Depression can occur for multiple reasons across the entire biopsychosocial spectrum. This means that one’s genetics, environment, personal experiences, and thresholds for trauma all play a role in how, when, and whether depressive symptoms develop. Some risk factors include:

    • Substance use
    • Genetic factors
    • Chronic stressors
    • Traumatic experiences
    • Poor familial relationships
    • Victimization online or at school
    • Loss of a loved one or close friend
    • Socioeconomic circumstances (poverty)
    • Negative norms (violence, drug use among peers, competitiveness, and bullying)

Some types of depression are primarily tied to hormones, while others are largely neurological, tied to changes in the brain after trauma, or tied to recurring stressors. Sometimes, it is a little bit of everything. This can make identifying crucial risk factors difficult, which is why finding the right treatment can take time. Employing as many protective factors as possible is also important. Protective factors may lower the risk and help play a role in teen depression treatment. They include:

    • Nutrition
    • Physical activity
    • Familial relationships
    • Developing healthy coping skills
    • Positive norms (cooperative and nurturing environment)
    • Healthier social connections (friendships) and interactions
    • Access to better mental healthcare and healthcare resources

When, Where, and How to Seek Teen Depression Treatment

Treatments for teen addiction center around a combination of talk therapy and pharmacology. The most common and effective medical treatment for depression is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), although alternative antidepressants may be prescribed when multiple SSRIs fail. Some types of depression can only be treated by addressing the underlying condition.

In contrast, others cannot be successfully treated without addressing the co-occurring condition. Alternatives to antidepressants may also play a role in depression treatment, now and in the future. These include off-label treatments such as ketamine, and non-pharmacological options such as transcranial magnetic stimulation.

In nearly all cases of teen depression treatment, long-term CBT-based talk therapy is a central part of the plan and process. Teens with co-occurring disorders may be better treated through residential programs that help immerse them in a healing environment along with other teens. It may take time before you can find the right approach for your teen, which is why helping them create a strong support network is also important.

Anxiety Depression Holidays

Helping Your Teen Navigate Holiday Depression and Anxiety

While we usually consider the holiday season a time for joy and cheer, that feeling is not universal. Among people with mental health issues, over half (64 percent) report that the holiday season negatively impacts their condition, with 40 percent reporting that they feel somewhat worse and nearly a quarter (24 percent) reporting feeling much worse. One respondent in a survey for the National Alliance on Mental Illness stated that the “holiday season beams a spotlight on everything difficult about living with depression.”

While millions of Americans are doing their best to find the right time and space to spend with their family, the looming threat and ongoing destruction caused by COVID-19 further weighs on people’s hearts, raising anxieties about seeing friends and loved ones, and reopening fresh wounds caused by the loss of family members. There’s also seasonal/holiday depression, which affects up to 20 percent of people with major depressive disorder (MDD) and worsens depression during the winter months.

If you feel that your family, and especially your teen, are taking things quite hard during this year’s holiday season, then know that you are not alone. Millions of Americans are in mourning this year. The financial impact of a pandemic only further heightens anxieties around finances and finding work, not to mention the pain of missing family during one of the most important social occasions of the year. Understanding how the holidays might affect your teen and make them feel can help you identify the best way to help them.

Understanding the Highs and Lows of Holiday Depression

Seasonal/holiday depression, also referred to as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a mental health condition that affects about 3 percent of the general population. Between 10 and 20 percent of people are affected by MDD, and nearly 25 percent of people are affected by bipolar disorder. Seasonal/holiday depression is a mood disorder characterized by symptoms of depression, especially during the winter months, usually tied to a combination of factors including:

    • Everyday holiday stressors around family.
    • The pressure to be social.
    • Financial stress.
    • Drastically lowered levels of daylight, which can affect the brain and induce a negative mood.

Only about 10 percent of people with seasonal/holiday depression experience symptoms during the spring and summer months, rather than the fall and winter months. Seasonal/holiday depression should not be confused with the winter blues, a separate phenomenon involving a mild dip in mood during the holidays. People with seasonal/holiday depression experience more severe symptoms, including:

    • A marked decrease in self-esteem.
    • Noticeable signs of hypersomnia (excessive sleep).
    • Intense cravings.
    • Rapid weight gain.

While the causes are not entirely laid out, research indicates that the holiday season’s stressors may be exacerbated in some people by disrupted body clocks (circadian rhythm issues) and a lack of sunlight leading to lower production and release of important mood controlling neurotransmitters, like dopamine and serotonin.

If your teen’s mood dips severely over the holidays, then know that their low mood and irritability might not just be in response to recent events but also the winter months’ general effect. Certain protective factors and condition-specific treatments (like light therapy, utilizing artificial UV light) may help them cope better. Unlike the winter blues, seasonal/holiday depression must be diagnosed and treated by a professional.

An Especially Difficult Year

Regardless of whether your teen’s mood is significantly impacted by holiday stressors and a different day-and-night cycle, no one would argue against the fact that this year is filled with extraordinary circumstances. We could all stand to have a little more support during this challenging year.

While some of us might be keen to see it end and are eagerly looking forward to celebrating the coming of a new year and new opportunities, others reflect on the past 12 months’ events with sorrow and pain. Your teen might be reminded of a close friend or relative’s death whenever they feel the “holiday spirit,” or they think your stress from months and months of anxiety and back-to-back bad news, and it is wearing on them as well.

It takes time to recover from loss and pain, in any shape or form. But if the holidays serve up a final stinger rather than a soothing balsam, acting together could help you and your teen find some peace and make the best of things. Here are a few tips for seeking emotional stability and overcoming low moods during these next few months.

Establishing and Maintaining a Healthy Routine

The holidays can feel massively disrupting for many, especially for teens who rely on a steady routine to keep their feet on the ground and manage feelings of anxiety or loneliness. Maintaining a healthy routine even throughout the holidays might feel like it is not doing a special occasion any justice, but it may help your teen feel stable. Elements of a healthy routine might include:

    • An hour or two of exercise.
    • Limited screen time.
    • Working on a project individually or together (like fixing up an old car, learning to cook new meals, finishing a book, or practicing an instrument).
    • Continuing to work or study (or find an equivalent activity).

Having Things to Look Forward To

For many teens who are feeling down during the holidays, these next few weeks might serve mainly as a reminder of what could have been or of the sorrowful events that had come to pass in weeks prior. Having something to look forward to can help serve as a reminder to move on or focus and be grateful for future opportunities. The next date with a friend, a new graduation day, the first day of a new life at school, or even just the new year and what it might bring. Holding onto the hope of something better is essential.

Making a Difference Over the Holidays

The holidays aren’t just a time for gift-receiving – they’re also a time for gift-giving, and sometimes, that gift doesn’t need to be a new phone or a fancy necklace. If your teen is feeling down, helping those in need during the winter months (and during a pandemic) can help them reap the benefits of kindness and gratitude. There are many ways to help, from donating unwanted old clothes to volunteering at kitchens and handing out supplies. See what is being organized in your local neighborhood and pitch in with your teen any way you can.

Warning Signs and Getting Help

Sometimes, the best thing you can do to help your teen is getting them the help they need. Suppose your teen has been making frequent references to self-harm and suicide, has changed drastically in terms of personality and interests, has become entirely recluse and intensely irritable, and is generally unresponsive to all attempts to help reincorporate them into family life. In that case, it might be best to call a professional and ask for help. Convincing your teen to come to see a specialist might be difficult, but they may also be waiting for you to take notice and offer serious help as their thoughts and behavior spiral towards depression.


What Is Situational Depression? What Parents Should Know

Situational depression is another term for a type of adjustment disorder wherein a person develops short-term depressive symptoms, usually in response to overwhelming stress. Adjustment disorders are characterized by behaviors and symptoms that require treatment in response to stressors within everyday human experience and are not necessarily exceptional or “traumatic,” such as a breakup, divorcing parents, struggling at school, or losing a loved one due to natural causes.

What is and is not traumatic remains relative. Still, the main distinction between something like an adjustment disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, is the magnitude and intensity of the causal experience(s). Situational depression, and by extension, other adjustment disorders are especially relevant now. Research shows us that anxiety and depression symptoms are still climbing among teens, and we’ve seen a spike in mental health concerns this year.

A recent poll shows that teens most often cited thoughts about the future, increasing loneliness, concerns about the world, and the inability to hang out with friends as primary causes of anxiety and depressive thinking. Between the ongoing pandemic and continued political polarization, the world has become a scarier place for many teens.

Understanding the difference between mood disorders, like major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder, and adjustment disorders, like situational depression, is essential. These conditions progress differently, may be treated differently, and have different and distinct causes.

Situational Depression Is Not a “Mood Disorder”

Mood disorders are a family of psychiatric conditions related to mood regulation, closely tied to symptoms of depression (exceptionally low mood) and mania (exceptionally high mood). Major depressive disorder (MDD) is the most common mood disorder and is also known as clinical depression.

When someone is diagnosed with MDD, they struggle with the condition that affects how their brain regulates their mood in the long-term. The causes behind this kind of depression can include external factors such as childhood trauma – which can leave a lasting impact on the brain, and internal factors such as a hereditary predisposition towards poor mood regulation.

Environmental factors and stressors can exacerbate or improve symptoms. Still, someone diagnosed with major depressive disorder is not just going through a rough patch or feeling blue solely due to extraneous circumstances.

The same goes for most other mood disorders, such as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (linked to neurological and endocrinological causes) and bipolar disorder. While an adjustment disorder is more severe than just “feeling low” for a short time, it is not usually a long-term disorder like most mood disorders.

Most cases of situational depression are no longer than six months. Whereas the onset of a mood disorder may be stressful, a mood disorder’s causes are more complex than any single stressor. On the other hand, adjustment disorders can be linked back to an identifiable causal event or experience.

Can You Have Situational Depression and a Mood Disorder?

A teen might first be diagnosed with situational depression because their symptoms began after a coincidental stressful event, but further sessions and therapy may show it to be a mood disorder or different condition instead if the typical treatment program doesn’t help reduce symptoms, or if other criteria are met.

Most of the time, situational depression can be addressed with a swift therapeutic response, essentially helping a teen cope with the stressors around them, address their behavior and thinking, and help family members better understand their teen’s behavior and provide support.

This does not mean that situational depression is somehow less important or severe than a mood disorder like MDD. A teen with situational depression can still develop suicidal tendencies, consider self-harm, or become increasingly antagonistic towards friends and family.

The distinction is essential to help separate treatment courses for teens with an underlying mood disorder and teens struggling with an adjustment disorder and give parents a better understanding of why teens may respond differently to stressors and why some teens may be depressed for a few months while others struggle with depression for years.

Situational Depression Is Short-Term But Serious

The symptoms of situational depression, or “adjustment disorder with depressive symptoms,” are like those of other depressive disorders. They include:

    • Low mood or sadness
    • Lack of motivation
    • Losing interest in old hobbies/not developing new ones
    • Withdrawing from opportunities for social interaction
    • Feelings of hopelessness
    • Constant fatigue and restlessness
    • Inexplicable pains and aches (especially headaches and stomach aches)
    • Sudden changes in appetite and weight
    • Signs of substance use
    • Self-harm
    • Frequently talking about suicide

It is important never to rely on self-diagnosis when it comes to any medical or psychiatric condition. Be sure to get a proper diagnosis from a mental health professional if you suspect you or a loved one are struggling with a form of depression, regardless of what kind of depression it might be.

Therapy, Support, and Empathy

Situational depression is treated primarily through therapy. Teens discuss their fears and worries, thoughts and feelings, and learn to separate depressive symptoms from other, more rational thinking. While situational depression is rooted in a stressful cause, depressive thoughts are inherently irrational. They can cause someone to feel hopeless even in something hopeful or feel alone, even when surrounded by family.

Therapists can help teens develop coping tools to identify and combat depressive thoughts and slowly spend more time with therapeutic activities and coping mechanisms (such as exercise, creative endeavors, or spending time with friends) while avoiding things that may help reduce mood. Teen group therapy and family therapy can help teens respond better to a group dynamic. They learn more about situational depression and other adjustment disorders and useful coping tools with loved ones.

Family and friends play a significant role in helping teens cope with their symptoms by offering support and empathy. Empathic responses can include assisting a teen in talking themselves out of a depressive episode, showing love and understanding for their perceived suffering rather than minimizing it, not belittling them for their mood, and more. Family therapy can also help heal ruptures and address family communication issues that might contribute to a teen’s depression.

Medication and Treatment Options

Antidepressant medication may still help teens with situational depression by addressing potential underlying or accompanying symptoms. On their own, adjustment disorders are not caused by brain changes, so medication usually will not affect them. Therapy remains key to a swift treatment for situational depression. However, in teens with other conditions, antidepressants may help address lower than normal levels of necessary brain chemicals like serotonin and norepinephrine by affecting how the brain adjusts its endogenous neurotransmitter levels.


Parent’s Guide to a Month-Long Observance of Teen Depression

Teen depression can be a very overwhelming illness. The negative thoughts associated with depression range from self-deprecating feelings to thoughts of suicide and self-harm, and parents can often feel hopeless in the face of a disease that doesn’t respond to rational thought or reason.

These feelings are neither your fault nor your teens and learning to overcome them takes a great deal of time and dedicated treatment. If your teen has been diagnosed with a form of depression, be prepared for the road ahead. Depressive conditions require long-term support and treatment and understanding depression can go a long way towards providing that support.

Understanding Teen Depression

Depression is a feeling of severe hopelessness. It is more persistent than normal sadness, can occur for no discernable reason, and is characterized by recurring negative thoughts. Depression is the primary characteristic of several different mood disorders, which often have a complex biopsychosocial origin.

This means depression can occur for reasons that are biological, psychological, and social. Factors such as victimization at school, family trauma, genetics, endocrine health, and substance use play a significant role in the development and severity of a depressive condition. The most common is Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), although there are others, such as:

A teen’s depression may have multiple different causes, each contributing in some way, and each playing a potential role in their treatment. Teens affected by PMDD or SAD would have a different treatment course than MDD, for example. Where sadness is a normal emotion, depression is chiefly characterized by its anormal persistence.

To be diagnosed with a form of depression, a teen would have to display symptoms for at least two weeks, although the condition itself can last much longer. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, with signs such as low mood and loss of interest in hobbies and social activity, to self-harm and suicidal ideation. There are many theories for why and how depression develops in the brain.

Pharmacological treatment involves selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of antidepressants that increases the availability of a chemical in the brain related to positive mood. Psychiatric therapies for depression center around identifying, isolating, and combatting individual negative thoughts that a teen can associate with depression, effectively learning to recognize the disorder and how it operates in the mind.

Teen depression treatment can take weeks, months, or more. It is often recurring, and may flare up in times of severe stress, or for no reason. Certain protective factors can help minimize recurrence and prevent depression in those who are more likely to experience it (due to heritability).

Is My Teen Depressed?

It can be difficult to separate sadness from depression, especially from an outside perspective. Much as we would like to, we cannot always understand what our children are thinking. However, there are still signs and symptoms that should never go ignored, and patterns that may suggest something more serious than passing misery.

    • Frequently joking about suicide
    • Wishing one were dead
    • Losing interest in all hobbies (without gaining new interests)
    • Severe change in weight and appetite
    • Signs of self-harm
    • Unexplained pains, especially headaches and stomach issues
    • Substance use and/or abuse
    • Persistent irritability
    • Expressing feelings of worthlessness
    • Constant fatigue
    • Trouble concentrating

Depressive symptoms in teens should always be taken seriously. Teens are teens, and some of the issues and concerns they feel strongly about may feel relatively silly to any adult. Furthermore, the nature of a depressive condition is such that it can occur without any obvious trigger, or absent of any rational cause.

There is no talking your teen out of depression or lecturing them to feel better. When depression strikes, the sadness becomes all-encompassing, and offering support – being there, listening, comforting them, and convincing them they are not alone or worthless – becomes critical.

Are Antidepressants Enough?

Antidepressants are a first-line treatment against depression, but they are rarely the only answer. Treatment for depression may require a multimodal approach, one that combines social activity and support with individual physical and mental health approaches, including exercise and therapy.

Teens who are depressed need to be reminded that they are not alone, and that their friends and family are always standing by them. They need encouragement to seek out social interaction, even in times like this, whether with close friends through the internet or alongside proper COVID precautions.

Individual therapy may combine different approaches or rely on certain types of therapy to isolate and disprove negative thinking. Teens who are depressed will often think to themselves that they have nothing to show for in life, and that everyone around them would be better off if they were dead.

Disproving these thoughts and being reminded of the good things in life can help edge a teen out of a depressive episode. Coping mechanisms that promote good emotions, from creating something (writing, playing music, drawing) to exercise can play a critical role in avoiding depressive symptoms. Different types of depression may require different treatment approaches.

Teens with PMDD may have to coordinate with a doctor to pick out medication to help combat their symptoms without adversely affecting puberty or their menstrual cycles. SAD may be treated through a combination of pharmacology and light therapy (mimicking sunlight). When depression is codependent on drug use, treatment would have to address both issues concurrently.

Every teen’s depression and their treatment may look a little differently. But a key feature in each of their stories is the importance of family and friends. While therapists and specialists help dictate treatment, it is ultimately those who are closest to a teen who do the most to help them survive and overcome their diagnosis.

How Can I Support My Teen?

There are different things parents can do to help support their teen. These include:

    • Showing interest and support their hobbies and likes. Teens with depression may not always been depressed, and when they are not, they may spend their time trying to do something that makes them happy. Show interest and encourage them to pursue that thing.
    • Encouraging them to engage with the family and get things done together. Spend more time together as a family and try to emphasize that your teen will always have a place at home.
    • Providing balanced and nutritious meals. Nutrition may play a significant role in both the onset and management of depression and may help regulate mood alongside treatment.
    • Identifying your teen’s symptoms and talk to them about getting help. If your teen hasn’t been diagnosed, but you’re worried about their behavior, encouraging them to talk about their thoughts and feelings and potentially seek help with you is an important first step towards helping them figure out what’s going on in their mind.
Adolescence Bullying Depression Mental Health

Depression and Bullying

Everyone goes through trying times, and it’s only natural for us to say we feel depressed because of money, relationship or family issues. The problem with depression comes when we’re feeling sad, isolated and hopeless all of the time. Depression is a mental health condition that we see if over 60% percent of our population, and it’s not simply adults that are affected by this but children and teens are the most affected by depression.

Symptoms of Depression:

  • Feeling disconnected
  • Social withdrawal
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Loss of concentration
  • Agitation
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Hopelessness
  • Loss of interest

At Visions Adolescent Treatment Center, we see teens in addiction recovery that deal with depression as part of their daily lives. Depression gets worse when these kids suffer from bullying in school, which can sometimes lead to suicide. These kids move through life in a fog of sadness every single day; addiction for them is the only way they know how to get out of that. Our job is to remove that fog from their lives and show them there are so many beautiful things that can keep them happy, healthy and willing to explore all the world has to offer.

Pushed to the Edge Because of Bullying

Bullying isn’t something new, but it’s become increasingly worse as time passes with the availability of things like technology. Technology has created a web of bullying tactics that make the impact worse because of embarrassing videos or photos that circulate to thousands and live online for years. The web, social media and news stories bring awareness to the issue of bullying as well. People don’t realize how pranks that may seem small affect people that already have issues with depression.

Schools are a battlefield when it comes to being the most popular kid, the best dressed, or the coolest. Add this to issues at home that no kid wants to talk about at school, such as abuse, death or loss of a loved one, conflict, and we get a lethal combination of issues that can push someone over the edge. Many people that suffer from depression don’t know that it’s a chemical imbalance that’s made significantly worse when external factors blend with their own personal feelings. Early diagnosis of depression can help with managing depression; the child that has access to a counselor and already working to manage their condition are less likely to look to self-harm.

Don’t Let Bullying Continue—Be Better

We ask that bullying is taken seriously and that if you see or become an accomplice regarding bullying, please stand up for that person and say something. You never know what someone is dealing with internally, and it is our job as human beings to stop someone from hurting others unnecessarily. Whether it is children picking on each other or anyone treating someone rudely, we must rise as one and fight against this treatment and behavior. We would all hope that our children have someone there to lend a helping hand and stand up for them.

What can you do if you experience bullying?

If you’re the victim in a bullying situation, it’s important that you talk to someone about it. Teachers, counselors, friends and family are a great place to start. There are also hotlines you can call and speak to a counselor in just a few seconds. At Visions Adolescent Treatment Center, we have staff ready to offer advice over the phone at any time. You’re not alone in this and being afraid isn’t the answer. Often people don’t realize the negative effects they have on others lives, but we should never feel that it is our fault that they treat us this way.

Suicide Isn’t the Answer

Again, you are not alone in this. Others are experiencing the same things at school or home. At the end of the day, you have options to look to in these situations. Suicide is permanent, and it helps no one; suicide effects more than just the person who elects to end their life. Your friends, family and anyone else you care for will be burdened with more than you can imagine. Sharing your feelings with these people is the best option, they would much rather have had you sit with them and talk then to take these serious actions to end the problem.

Think about this for a moment—if every person that went through bullying said nothing and simply ended their life, there would be no one to stand up for what’s right and stop bullying. There would be no one to share their experience and feelings about bullying, and no one would understand that the things they do have consequences. Become an advocate and get involved. At Visions, we encourage our clients to go out there and have a voice.

If you suffer from depression and experience bullying, please call Visions Adolescent Treatment Center at (818) 889-3665 today and share your story with us.


Important Teen Depression Facts

The teen years are typically filled with a wide range of moods and behaviors. However, if your teen appears locked into negative feelings like sadness, anger or withdrawal from family and friends, a more serious problem may be the culprit. Depression is a widespread problem among teens, affecting as many as one in five adolescents. It is important for parents to learn to recognize symptoms of teen depression and seek out professional help their child may need.

Occurrence of Depression in Teens

The average onset of depression in teenagers occurs between 15 and 19. During the early stages of adolescence, depression strikes boys and girls at approximately the same rate. After puberty, the depression rate increases significantly for female teens. Nearly one-third of teens with depression will also develop a substance abuse disorder, often as an attempt to “self-medicate” their depression symptoms.

The large majority of teens with depression (as many as 80 percent) will not seek treatment for their illness. Untreated depression can lead to other problems, including bullying, substance abuse, academic failure and eating disorders. Of the adolescents that do receive some type of treatment, up to 70 percent will see improvement in their symptoms.

Symptoms of Teen Depression

Depression in teenagers may look slightly different than depression in adults. Some of the signs of teen depression might include:

    • Irritability or hostility
    • Sadness or feelings of hopelessness
    • Noticeable changes to eating habits
    • Sleep changes or disruptions
    • Weight fluctuations
    • Poor performance in school
    • Constant fatigue, loss of energy
    • Overly sensitive to criticism, low self-esteem
    • Withdrawal from family, friends and activities
    • Unexplained physical pain (often headaches or stomach aches)
    • Suicidal thoughts and ideations

Depression and Suicide

Depression can increase a teenager’s risk for suicide by as much as 12 times. Teens in this situation may begin to say things like, “I’d be better off dead,” or “I want to just disappear.” Other signs might include giving away valued possessions, writing about death or suicidal threats.

If your teen shows any signs suicide may be imminent, do not wait to get help. While some teens may “attempt” suicide to gain attention, a disturbing number of those adolescents actually succeed. Suicide hotlines and mental health professionals trained to deal with suicidal teens can make the difference between life and death.

Seeking Teen Depression Treatment

Treatment for teen depression typically begins with talk therapy that provides teens a safe place to explore feelings and emotions. Therapy can also help teenagers work on difficult relationships with parents or peers, and help them change negative thinking patterns into positive thinking and behavior. In some cases, medication may also be recommended, but this approach nearly always works better when it is combined with some type of talk therapy.

If your depressed teen is also showing signs of substance abuse, it is important to address the substance abuse disorder simultaneously with the depression. At Visions Treatment Centers, our staff is trained to work with teens with a dual diagnosis – a combination of a mental illness and a substance abuse disorder. To learn more, contact us today.

Addiction Depression Mental Health Self-Harm Suicide

What Parents Need to Know About Cutting

Cutting is a form of self-injury or SI. Contrary to how it might seem to someone on the outside looking in, cutting is not a way to get attention. It is not a suicide attempt. Cutting is a sign that the person is in deep emotional pain and that pain must be addressed before the self-injuring behavior can stop. If you suspect your child is self-injuring, there are some basic facts about this behavior that you need to know.

What does Cutting Look Like?
Cutting can be done with any sharp object found around the house; razors, thumbtacks, scissors or even the edge of a soda can pop top. The cuts usually occur on the arms, but some teens also cut on the thighs or abdomen. Most cuts are straight lines, although some teens might also cut words into skin to reflect their deep feelings leading to their self-injury.

Common symptoms of cutting might include:

• Fresh cuts or scratches
• Scars along the arms or other areas
• Sharp objects in the trash or hidden in the teen’s bedroom
• Wearing long sleeves even on hot days
• Spending longer periods of time alone
• Feelings of helplessness or hopelessness
• Other disorders, such as an eating disorder or substance abuse
• Extreme mood shifts or out-of-control behavior

Hiding the Pain

Kids that cut may find some type of emotional relief from the behavior, but they also know it is not “right” or “normal” to others. They will make every effort to hide their cutting, wearing clothing that covers up the injuries and scars or lying about how the injuries occurred. Parents often feel

Cutting is a form of self-injury or SI. Contrary to how it might seem to someone on the outside looking in, cutting is not a way to get attention. It is not a suicide attempt. Cutting is a sign that the person is in deep emotional pain and that pain must be addressed before the self-injuring behavior can stop. If you suspect your child is self-injuring, there are some basic facts about this behavior that you need to know.

The Pain Principle
If cutting is not done to get attention, why do kids do it? In most cases, kids begin cutting because they are experiencing deep emotional pain – from an event like a death, previous abuse or intense stress or anxiety. The cutting actually relieves the emotional pain, almost like drugs or alcohol numb the senses.

Teens that cut are not looking to end their lives from this behavior. However, there are cases where the cutting goes deeper than the person intended, requiring stitches or even hospitalization. Kids that cut are also suffering deep emotional issues that could lead to suicidal thoughts and ideations in the future if the issues are not addressed.

Cutting is a serious problem that can become almost addictive over time. The behavior is often associated with food addictions or substance use disorders. If your teen is cutting, help is available. Contact Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers today at 866-889-3665 to learn more about cutting or get the help your child needs.