Types of Depression Commonly Found in Teens

depression in teens

Verywell / Emilie Dunphy 

Depression is common during adolescence and it may look different in teens than adults. Teens often seem more irritable than sad when they're depressed.

But, not all depression is created equal. The word depression is used to describe a variety of conditions. There are four main types of depression that commonly affect teenagers. Recognizing the signs and symptoms can be key to getting a teen treatment. And early intervention can often be key to successful treatment. 

1. Adjustment Disorder With Depressed Mood

An adjustment disorder occurs in response to a life event. Moving to a new school, the death of a loved one, or dealing with a parents’ divorce are examples of changes that can spur an adjustment disorder in teens.

Adjustment disorders begin within a few months of the event and may last up to six months. If symptoms persist beyond six months, another diagnosis would be more appropriate.

Although brief in nature, adjustment disorders can interfere with sleep, school work, and social functioning.

Your teen may benefit from talk therapy to teach them new skills or help them cope with the stressful situation.

2. Persistent Depressive Disorder (Dysthymia)

Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) is a low grade, chronic depression that lasts for more than a year. Teens with dysthymia are often irritable and they may have low energy, low self-esteem, and feelings of hopelessness.

Their eating habits and sleeping patterns may also be disturbed. Frequently, dysthymia interferes with concentration and decision making. It's estimated that roughly 11 percent of teens, ages 13 to 18, experience dysthymia.

Although dysthymia isn’t as severe as major depression, the long duration can take a serious toll on a teen’s life. It can interfere with learning, socialization, and overall functioning. Dysthymia also makes a teen more susceptible to other mood disorders later in life. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication are often very effective in treating dysthymia. 

3. Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of depression followed by periods of mania or hypomania (a less severe form of mania). Both the depressive and manic states will last anywhere from a couple of weeks to many months. Symptoms of mania include a reduced need for sleep, difficulty focusing, and a short-temper.

During a manic episode, a teen is likely to talk fast, feel very happy or silly, and be willing to engage in risky behavior. Many teens engage in high-risk sexual behavior during a manic episode.

Teens with bipolar disorder will likely experience significant impairment in their daily functioning.

Their severe mood changes interfere with their education and friendships. Bipolar is treatable but not curable. Bipolar is usually best treated with a combination of medication and therapy.

4. Major Depression 

Major depression is the most serious form of depression. It is estimated that 13 percent of teens, ages 12 to 17, experienced at least one episode of major depression in 2017, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Younger children have about equal rates of depression based on gender. After puberty, however, girls are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression.

Symptoms of major depression include persistent sadness and irritability, talk about suicide, a lack of interest in enjoyable activities, and frequent reports of physical aches and pains. Major depression can cause severe impairments at home and at school. Treatment usually involves therapy and may include medication.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

Treatment for Depression

Unfortunately, many teens go undiagnosed and untreated. Often, adults don't recognize the signs of depression in young people.

If you notice changes in your teen's mood or behavior that lasts longer than two weeks, schedule an appointment with the doctor.

Express your concerns and describe the symptoms that you're seeing. Make it clear to your teen that you don't think they are weak or crazy. Instead, talk about a mental health issue the same way you would discuss a physical health problem.

Explain that emotional problems need healing the same way physical health problems do. And sometimes, depression requires an exam and treatment beyond what you're able to do at home.

Your child's physician may refer you to a psychotherapist or a psychiatrist for further assessment and treatment. Talk therapy, family therapy, group therapy, and medication may be treatment options. Treatment will be based on the type of depression your teen has and the severity of their symptoms.

If your teen is struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Patra BN, Sarkar S. Adjustment disorder: current diagnostic status. Indian J Psychol Med. 2013;35(1):4-9. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.112193

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Dysthymic disorder among children.

  3. Obo CS, Sori LM, Abegaz TM, Molla BT. Risky sexual behavior and associated factors among patients with bipolar disorders in Ethiopia. BMC Psychiatry. 2019;19(1):313. doi:10.1186/s12888-019-2313-2

  4. National Institute of Mental Health. Major depression.

  5. Albert PR. Why is depression more prevalent in women?. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2015;40(4):219-21. doi:10.1503/jpn.150205

Additional Reading

By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.