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What to do when your teen says they’re depressed.

You hear about teen depression all the time in the news. More than one in ten US adolescents have experienced a depressive episode (1). But what is depression really, and does your teen have it? There are clear distinctions between normal teen moodiness and depression. There are clear steps you can take right away.

At Joon, we provide therapy to 13–26 year olds every day. So we understand what’s typical teen stuff versus when to worry—we can help.

Lauren Hammond, PhD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Psychologist and Senior Clinical Care Manager

Understanding teen depression.

The teenage years are wrought with changes, and as parents you’ll likely notice your teen’s mood becoming more variable. Your teen might act out more or be more moody than they were as a kid. 

While acting out occasionally or having bad moods is a normal part of adolescence, a persistent sad, low, down, or irritable mood may be a sign there’s something more going on (for example, they’re feeling this way the majority of the day, nearly every day for two weeks or more). 

Here are the most common signs of depression:

  • Consistently feeling sad or down
  • Losing interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Increased irritability or angry outbursts
  • Feeling on edge or restless
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Decreased energy and increased fatigue
  • Changes in sleep—getting far more or far less sleep than usual
  • Changes in eating—eating either far more or far less than usual
  • Increased physical complaints like headaches, aches and pains, or digestive problems without a clear cause
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

Teens who are depressed may also exhibit some of these symptoms: 

Discovering that your teen is depressed can be scary, but as a parent, you can help your teen get help and mental health support.

Is it time to get support for your 13-26 year old? We’re here to help.

Why would my teen be depressed?

Teen depression often stems from a variety of biological, social, and environmental factors. The following factors may start, worsen, or contribute to your teen’s depression.

  1. <h3>Physical changes or life stress</h3>
    Many daily stressors can impact your teen’s mood. These might include the impact of hormones during puberty, biological changes, or physical concerns, like not getting enough sleep, not eating adequately, or getting sick.
    Additionally, high school students often have more demands on their time—including sports and extracurricular activities—on top of schoolwork. Feeling overwhelmed can contribute to depression and low mood.
  2. <h3>Relationship ruptures</h3>
    Teens are particularly sensitive to disruptions in their social circle. If your teen is fighting with a friend, has gone through a recent breakup, or is experiencing other social upheavals, this interpersonal stress may impact them more intensely and for longer than it would an adult.
  3. <h3>Loneliness</h3>
    Lack of social support leading to loneliness is also a risk factor for depressed mood (2). When teens want more social connection than they’re getting it’s natural to feel lonely. Seeing others “having fun” online can exacerbate these feelings.
  4. <h3>Bullying</h3>
    Teens who are being bullied by their peers, whether in person or online, might also be experiencing depressed mood. It also affects self-esteem and can lead to more social isolation and loneliness.
  5. <h3>Other mental or physical health concerns</h3>
    Teenage depression often occurs with other mental health concerns, including anxiety, self-harm, problematic eating, ADHD, or learning disorders. Difficulties dealing with one mental illness can then make it harder to deal with another. Additionally, physical health conditions like chronic pain and illness can contribute to low mood.

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What to do when your teen is depressed

When you find out your teen is depressed, there are steps you can take to support them right away:

  1. <h3>Take them seriously.</h3>
    Even if this behavior feels out of character, you believe it’s a “phase,” or you think it is being influenced by friends’ behavior, it’s always important to take depression seriously. Remember that attention-seeking for mental health support is not negative. Express to your teen that you will remain attentive to resolving this until they feel better. Approach the topic with curiosity and avoid judging or blaming. If your teen feels attacked or criticized, they’ll be less likely to open up to you about what’s happening. 
  2. <h3>Get mental health support.</h3>
    Depression is a clear indicator that your teen needs mental health support. Seek therapy that is oriented specifically to teens and young adults and that relies on evidence-based treatments, like therapy at Joon. CBT and DBT have proven effectiveness in relieving depression and extreme emotional distress.
  3. <h3>Encourage social support and reduce social media use.</h3>
    Help your teen stay connected to friends, emphasizing face-to-face contact over just online communication. Encourage your teen to join a sport, club, or other social event or activity. Additionally, work with them to limit their social media use, which research shows contributes to poor mental health.
  4. <h3>Have emergency resources ready.</h3>
    Keep emergency numbers, like 988, ready. Have a mental health safety plan in place if your teen’s depression ever becomes worse or you suspect your teen has been thinking about suicide.
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Our care team, just as unique as you.

Meet our licensed therapists, skilled in evidence-based methods and just as diverse as the teens they support.

Therapy works for teens who are depressed.

Therapy can help your teen explore what contributes to their depression. Additionally, therapy provides a judgment-free place for your teen to talk about their concerns. Teens can learn how to manage their symptoms, thoughts, behaviors, and emotions, and learn coping skills for future stressors. Additionally, therapy can help teens build support networks and identify hobbies, interests, and activities they’d be willing to try.

Look for a therapist who specializes in providing evidence-based care to teens. Therapy at Joon is evidence-based and designed for teens and young adults. They use our mobile platform and are given personalized skill-building practice in the app. 

As shown here, recovery data means being below the clinical symptom cutoff at least half the prior four weeks. In comparison, a study in 2017 reported 43% recovery after outpatient CBT for anxiety, and in 2009, 27% recovery after outpatient CBT for depression.

Therapy at Joon helps teens with serious mental health symptoms like clinical depression and anxiety. You can read more about our latest data on the effectiveness of Joon for treating 13-26 year olds.

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