When parents area asked what the first signs of their teenager’s depression were, they give answers that those who have not experienced teen depression would think was typical teen behavior. Only it is not and the angst the parents feel when trying to convey that is very telling to the person listen – whether it is a counselor or friend. These early warning signs can be read either way, therefore I warn parents to error on the side of caution when dealing with a teenager who may be depressed as opposed to sad. Get another opinion of a capable adult, preferably their physician.

Here is a list of the early warning signs of depression along with some insight of what parents say they saw. I hope it helps you in the situation you may be facing and please free free to add to this article below in the comments with your experiences.

Early Warning Signs of Teen Depression

  • More sensitive to criticism, sad or blue feelings most of the time.
  • Changes in a teen’s eating pattern, such as decreased or increased eating. Look for emotional eating, or binging when your child is upset. Or the opposite, where they haven’t eaten in days and seem to not care about it.
  • Irritable or cranky mood, preoccupation with song lyrics that suggest life is meaningless, this is a sad mood that can be depression if it goes on for a week or two.
  • Changes in a teen’s sleeping pattern, such as difficulty sleeping at night.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse, such as regular use of cigarettes, alcohol or marijuana.
  • Restlessness and agitation, can’t seem to sit and relax.
  • Failure to gain weight as normally expected or gains weight to quickly.
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt, thinking that everything is their fault
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation, especially for activities that they used to love doing. Not interested in joining a sports team they had always be a part of or school club. Stops hanging out with their best friends and becomes a loner.
  • A profound sense of hopelessness or unhappiness.
  • Fatigue or lack of energy, always wants to be sleeping and having a hard time to get up in the morning – even more so than normal teen behavior. Would prefer to be in their room, ‘resting’ than anywhere else in the world.
  • Difficulty concentrating, sees to go off into their own thoughts.
  • Tearfulness or frequent crying, has a hard time to stop.
  • Thoughts of death or suicide – get immediate attention from a physician if this happens.
  • Decline in school performance, can be seen as a byproduct of other teen depression symptoms but is often one of the first signs parents recognize.
  • Withdrawal from or change of friends, this is an early sign that parents don’t often see as a problem at first, unless the new friends are ‘bad news’.
  • Withdrawal from family and regular activities. Again, depressed teens suffer from fatigue, both mental and physical. They get ‘too tired’ for what they used to love doing.
  • Lack of interest in the future – this goes along with the hopelessness that they feel.
  • Dramatic change in personality or behavior such as extreme moodiness or irritability, includes a teen who is prone to angry outbursts which can get violent, easily frustrated, and irritable, grumpy or hostile.

There are also factors that can contribute to teen depression and therefore can be seen when dealing with a depressed teen.

  • low self-esteem,
  • loss of a loved one,
  • family conflicts,
  • problems with friends or peers,
  • chronic illness,
  • homosexuality
  • and teens who have a family history of depression.

In order for your teen to be diagnosed with depression, the disorder needs to be affecting their lives in a negative way. For instance, reread the symptoms above, they all lead to something going wrong in your teen’s life. Like if they are irritable and having mood swings, they are having problems getting along with others like friends and family. So for a mental health professional to diagnose depression in your teen their symptoms must lead to significant difficulties in:

  • Social activities
  • School grades
  • Relationships with family and friends
  • Normal social and emotional development

Sources: National Institutes of Health, CDC