How Teenage Depression Differs From Adult Depression

Depression in teenagers doesn't always look like depression in adults.
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Unfortunately, depression often goes undetected in teenagers. Parents sometimes don’t recognize the symptoms because depression in teenagers looks quite different than depression in adults. As a result, many teens unnecessarily suffer in silence.

There are four types of depression that commonly affect teenagers. Depression can affect all teens regardless of their gender, popularity, academic success, or athletic abilities. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the common symptoms of depression in teens so you can provide support and seek help when necessary.

Signs of Teenage Depression

While depressed adults often talk about emotional pain, depressed teens tend to report physical aches and pains. They may report headaches, stomach problems, or say they just don’t feel well. In the case of depression, physical exams won’t reveal any findings.


Adults usually describe feeling sad when they’re depressed, but teenagers often become increasingly irritable. They may behave disrespectfully or may have less patience than usual. They also may become defiant.

While mood swings can be normal during the teenage years, an unusually high amount of irritability should be considered a warning sign of possible depression.

Academic Changes

Teens may experience a sharp decline in their grades when depression strikes. But, that’s not always the case. Some teens maintain a high grade point average (GPA) even in the midst of emotional turmoil.

In fact, sometimes the pressure to maintain good grades becomes a factor in depression. A teen who feels the need to get accepted into an Ivy League college, or one who insists a disappointing SAT score could ruin their life, may remain driven to achieve despite being depressed.

Sensitivity to Criticism

Depression can lead to an intense sensitivity to criticism. Sometimes teens deal with this increased sensitivity by avoiding activities where they fear failure. A teen may refuse to try out for the soccer team or may refuse to invite a date to a school dance in an attempt to avoid rejection. 

At other times, teens may deal with this fear by becoming an overachiever. A depressed teen may become a perfectionist in an attempt to avoid the risk of being rejected. It’s important to monitor how your teen responds to risk, criticism, and failure as changes in your teen’s behavior could signal your teen is depressed.

Social Withdrawal

Social isolation is a common problem for someone with depression, but teens don’t necessarily withdraw from everyone when they become depressed. Sometimes they simply change peer groups.

A teen may begin to hang out with the wrong crowd or may stop talking to certain friends or family members.

At other times, teens withdraw from real-life activities and focus their attention on the online world when they’re feeling depressed. A depressed teen may create an online persona and may engage in online chats or play role-playing games for hours on end to escape the realities of life.

Seek Help for a Depressed Teen

If you think your teen may be depressed, seek professional help. Schedule an appointment with your teen’s pediatrician or reach out to a mental health professional. Treatment for adolescent depression may include therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. It’s important to be involved in your teen’s treatment.

It’s not unusual for teens to refuse to get help. If your teen refuses to go to counseling, meet with a mental health professional on your own. A psychotherapist may be able to offer insight and strategies you can use to help your depressed teen.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is a 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.