Symptoms of Depression in Tweens

How to Spot Preteen Depression

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It can be difficult to know if your child is going through a major bout with depression, or is just temporarily down in the dumps. Either way, acting quickly to help your tween, whatever their situation may be, is important.

Kids experience lots of change in their tween years: their hormones are kicking in, their responsibilities are increasing, and their schedules are overbooked. To make things even more challenging, tweens or preteens also struggle with changing family and friend relationships, stress, confusing cultural expectations, and the anxiety that often comes with their approaching adolescence.

It's no wonder that so many kids experience occasional sadness or possibly, even childhood depression. Recognizing warning signs of depression in preteens is the first step to getting them the help they need.

Proper depression treatment for preteens is especially important as studies suggest that children who suffer from childhood depression are more likely to use alcohol and drugs. They are also more at risk for engaging in other dangerous behaviors.

Symptoms of Preteen Depression 

The first step to helping your child is recognizing that there might be a problem. Unfortunately, the symptoms of preteen depression can be difficult to spot and can be confused with the normal trials and tribulations of growing up.

Tweens are frequently moody. Their changing hormones and emotions can make it difficult to know if they're just going through a phase or something more serious.

While depression symptoms in tweens vary from individual to individual and can differ from those seen in adults, it's not uncommon for depressed tweens to exhibit several of the following behaviors, at one time or another:

  • A change in appetite (eating too much or not enough)
  • A change in normal behavior or personality changes
  • A decline in grades at school
  • An inability to complete simple tasks
  • An inability to enjoy life and a lack of interest in the future
  • Anger and other frequent emotional outbursts
  • Body aches that can't be explained or treated
  • Feelings of frustration
  • Frequent stomachaches or headaches that don't respond to treatment
  • Overwhelming guilt and feelings of worthlessness
  • Reluctance to participate in social activities
  • Sleeping disturbances like sleeping too much, not sleeping well, or avoiding sleep
  • Withdrawing from friends and activities

Many tweens will rotate through the above symptoms routinely, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're suffering from childhood depression. But if your child's behavior lasts for more than two weeks, it could be a sign that the troubles are more than a temporary slump.

If you're unsure about your child's behavior, ask other family members, your child's teacher, and any other adult who has frequent contact with your child for their thoughts concerning your child's behavior.

If you're concerned, don't hesitate to ask your child's pediatrician, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist for an opinion.

Complications & Comorbidities

Certain mental health conditions may also occur alongside depression in preteens. It is not uncommon for depressed tweens to also experience:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Phobias
  • Substance use

Depress in tweens can also contribute to complications such as pain, family conflicts, social isolation, and difficulties in school. When left untreated, depression can lead to a number of other serious problems including drug and alcohol misuse, and relationship problems.

Tweens with depression are at a higher risk for suicidal thinking, suicide attempts, and death by suicide. Caregivers should watch for warning signs of suicide and always take any kind of suicidal thoughts or behaviors seriously.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

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

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes preteen depression?

There are a number of different factors, both biological and environmental, that can contribute to the development of depression in preteens. In tweens, imbalances in neurotransmitters like serotonin can predispose to depression.

A combination of traumatic events (such as divorce, death of a loved one, friendship problems, a family move) may also trigger depression in some youths, as may a family predisposition to the disorder.

How common is depression in tweens?

Depression is fairly common in tweens with as many as one in 30 living with the disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 3.2% of kids between the ages of three and 17 have been diagnosed with depression.

How do you help a tween with depression?

Depression can be treated successfully. With careful monitoring and support, a child experiencing depression has a very good chance of overcoming the condition.

Visiting your child's doctor is a must. Your child's pediatrician may recommend that your child seek counseling or psychotherapy, most likely with a pediatric mental health provider. You may also consider family therapy. In some cases, counseling is enough to help a child through rough times. In other circumstances, medication may be prescribed as well.

If you think your child is depressed or upset, educate yourself on their social media life. Your child's Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram might reveal if something is going on with friends or at school.

Whatever course of action the doctors propose to take, your role is as an advocate and a loving support system for your child.

How do you talk to your preteen about depression?

Listen to your child when they share information about their feelings and refrain from judging. Let your child know that you are there for them whenever they need you. Be persistent, even if you think they have gotten the point. Depressed tweens need to hear that you will be there for them and that your love is unconditional.


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