Depression in Teens: How Screenings Can Save Lives

This week teen depression made the news in a positive way. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reports that all young people between the ages of 12 and 18 should be screened for depression. This means primary care doctors, including pediatricians and family physicians should screen adolescents routinely for depression.

These doctors should have a system in place to connect young people with new recommendations for the treatment of depression. Although this isn’t a perfect answer, it can really help to save lives and families manage depression.

Depression in TeensSad Girl looking out the window - Depression in teens is high and new research show teens 12-18 should be screened for depression. Here are signs, symptoms and hope for depression in teens.

Depression is the number one cause of illness and disability in adolescents worldwide, according to World Health Organization, who released these alarming statistics in May 2014. This is astounding, as many of these teenagers don’t get help or receive treatment. One of the reasons for the increase in depression among teens is due to the misunderstanding many adults in their lives have about the disease; teens who are suffering from depression often do so silently. There is a lack of understanding by teachers, adults, parents and medical staff.  Too often they brush it off as a phase.

“The world has not paid enough attention to the health of adolescents,” says Dr. Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General for Family, Women and Children’s Health. “If adolescents with mental health problems get the care they need, this can prevent deaths and avoid suffering throughout life.”

In the United States, fewer than half of adolescents with a mental health problem receive treatment. In fact, according to U.S. surveys, about 8% of adolescents have suffered depression in the last year. This percentage is very similar to that of adults in the United States, and depression is found more and more in younger children.

“In private practice we see many young adults who are suffering from depression and have been since childhood. Many experts their parents have sent them to before misdiagnosed them. The earlier we can help these families the more likely they will be able to manage and heal.” Says Emily Roberts MA, LPC, Neurogistics therapist and author of Express Yourself a Teen Girls Guide to Speaking UP and Being Who You Are 

“We need to give parents the tools to help teens. The rise in self-harm is tremendous, suicidal thoughts and attempts have gone through the roof in adolscents. Parents and teens need help and this starts with their primary care doctor in many cases.” She says.

Early Screening for Teens

New studies point to providing screening for all adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18. Depression can appear in many forms and is sometimes difficult to detect. When is it apart of the regular ups and downs teenagers face and when is it something much more serious? There are several causes for depression in teens, including serotonin and brain changes, lack of sleep and hormones, genetic predisposition or environmental stressors. The first step is diagnosing the problem.

Depression in Teens: Could Your Child Be Suffering?

Teen depression signs and symptoms include changes in your teens’ emotions and behavior. It is typical for teens to appear as though they are on an emotional roller-coaster, but when the dips seem too frequent or you feel that the bad mood just isn’t going away, it’s time to get some professional help. As observers, you are likely to notice if something is off or awry—don’t doubt your parenting instincts!

It’s not known exactly what causes depression as a variety of factors may be involved. These include:

  • Brain Chemistry. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that likely play a role in depression. When these chemicals are out of balance due to genetics, stress, diet or inherited neurochemistry, depression symptoms often surface. We can test for these to see which neurotransmitters are out of balance.
  • Hormones. Changes in the body’s balance of hormones may be involved in causing or triggering depression. Hormones will often normalize when the biochemistry is balanced.
  • Genetics. Depression is more common in people whose biological (blood) relatives also have the condition.
  • Early childhood trauma. Traumatic events during childhood such as physical or emotional abuse or loss of a parent, may cause changes in the brain that make a person more susceptible to depression.
  • Environmental stressors. The teen years are tough and many young adults don’t come equipped with a guidebook or coping skills to handle it all. Many teens don’t have a clue how to bounce back from friendship shifts, peer group drama or have the stamina to keep up with the pressure that persist through the high school years. Without coping skills and self-esteem, many teens feel more than just exhaustion; they may feel hopeless.
  • Learned patterns of negative thinking. Depression in teens may be linked to learning to feel helpless — rather than learning to feel capable of finding solutions for life’s challenges.

Teen Depression: Emotional and Behavioral Changes

Watch out for changes in your teenager’s previous behavior and attitudes. These changes can cause significant stress and issues at home or at school, in social life and activities or other areas of their lives. These symptoms may very in severity.

  • Sad girl on phone - Depression in teens is high and new research show teens 12-18 should be screened for depression. Here are signs, symptoms and hope for depression in teens.Spending excess time alone, typically away from family and friends
  • Web searches for depression, suicide, or following social media handles that are provocative (pictures of self-harm, eating disorders, or suicidal topics)
  • Hopelessness thoughts or statements “What’s the point?” or “I’m not good enough”
  • Lack in confidence or ability; avoiding activities she used to enjoy or excel in; fearful of what others will think; speaks with self-doubt
  • Anxiety: unable to let go of thoughts, preoccupation on the future or overly concerned with the past, or engaging in anxiety-driven behaviors (picking skin, grinding teeth, self-harm, scratching, inability to sit still)
  • Inability to be alone with their own thoughts. You may notice that they have to be constantly connected to friends or strangers online, need to be physically around people, or always be physically or virtually connected
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much—often lethargic or less energetic than they used to be
  • Changes in appetite, such as decreased appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Change in school performance, abrupt change in peer groups, or frequent absences from school

Symptoms of depression in teens don’t get better if left untreated. Even if these symptoms don’t appear severe, they are life-threatening when ignored. Don’t wait to get help. Untreated depression can result in behavioral, emotional or health problems including, academic problems, family difficulty, risky sexual behaviors, alcohol and drug abuse, incarceration or suicide.

Girl looking out the window - Depression in teens is high and new research show teens 12-18 should be screened for depression. Here are signs, symptoms and hope for depression in teens.

If you are worried your teen is suffering from depression, reach out to your practitioner. Please contact your family doctor or pediatrician, a mental health professional, or school counselor to learn more if you need help. To speak to one of our mental health professionals, go to the contact page and give us a call. The sooner treatment begins, the better the outcome will be for your child and your family.


For more information on depression in teens, also visit Mental Health America.





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