5 Reasons Your Teen Might Be Depressed

5 Reasons Your Teen Might Be Depressed

1 out of 9 teens have had a depressive episode in the last year.

Nearly three million American teens, ages 12 to 17, experience depression each year, according to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The report also found that 1 out of 9 teens have had a major depressive episode sometime in the last year. And those rates continue to rise: jumping 11 percent from 2013 to 2014.

Typical depression symptoms include a loss of interest in things that were once pleasurable, extreme sensitivity to things like rejection and failure, sleeping problems and decreased energy levels. When teens are depressed, you may notice their performance in school starting to slip and their overall motivation decline. Experts don’t know exactly what causes depression, but various factors are thought to contribute to the disorder.

We talked to Scott Adams, PhD, Director of Youth Psychology and Quality at the Medical Center of Aurora in Colorado, to find out the most common signs of depression and the reasons that may be behind the mental health condition’s spike.

1. Self-esteem issues
A lot of the teen depression cases that Adams sees are related to low-self esteem. 

Teens who experience bullying, academic problems, body issues like obesity or even those who are questioning their sexuality or identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) are at higher risk for depression, says Adams. In fact, one study found that adolescents with low self-esteem between the ages of 12 and 16 were at a higher risk for developing depression later on, up to 20 years down the road. Why? Some researchers think having low-self esteem as a teen makes for less emotionally resilient adults.

2. Health conditions
People who live with long-term diseases like asthma or chronic pain syndromes are at increased risk of depression. Bipolar disorders, personality disorders and anxiety disorders can all coexist with depression, too, says Adams. “If they have a physical disability that sets them apart from other kids their age, that would be a risk factor,” says Adams.

3. Genetics and family problems
If someone in your family has a history of depression or mental illness, your child may be more at risk for inheriting the disease. Studies show that while it’s not always the case, depression can be hereditary. Teens who experience even normal stressful life events, such as divorce, death in the family, dysfunctional family dynamics or exposure to a family member with suicidal thoughts also have an increased risk of depression, says Adams.

4. Social media and unrealistic expectations
Another possible reason for depression in teens is the increasing popularity of social media. “When using social media, they are faced with unrealistic expectations of how they should be and who they should be,” says Adams. Looking at actors, bloggers and other teens all day every day can cause teens to put more pressure on themselves.

The American Academy of Pediatrics explains the term “Facebook depression,” as the depression that teens may feel after spending large amounts of time on social networking sites only to feel unaccepted by their online peers. Over half of American teens log on to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter more than once per day, while about 22 percent log on more than 10 times per day. 

5. Lack of sleep
We’re all grumpy if we don’t get enough sleep, but when teens skimp on sleep, they have bigger issues than just a little bit of moodiness. 

The National Sleep Foundation recommends teens get 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night. One study shows teens who go to sleep after midnight are 24 percent more likely to experience depression than teens who go to bed at 10 p.m. or earlier. 

Depression and sleep dysfunction often go hand-in-hand as depression can also cause insomnia or other sleep disorders. And while researchers still aren’t clear as to why poor sleeping habits may lead to depression, a tired teen may have impaired judgment and may have a hard time dealing with regular daily stress.

If your teen is experiencing depression symptoms that interfere with their everyday lives, the first thing you should do is talk to your family doctor or a mental health physician. Here are 5 other ways Adams says you can help your teen if you think they’re depressed.

Medically reviewed in January 2019.

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