What is Depression?

Depression is a common mental heath issue characterized by changes in mood, behavior, and functioning that persist for at least several weeks and cause difficulties in functioning. For children this might mean academic or behavioral difficulties at school, difficulties interacting with peers, or withdrawing from family. Depression is more than simply being in a bad mood, feeling sad, or having a negative attitude and includes other significant psychological, biological, and behavioral changes.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Depression in Teenagers

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Academic  difficulties (e..g, drop in grades, not doing school work)
  • Behavioral issues (e.g., getting into trouble at school, or refusing to go to school)
  • Change in appetite
  • Feeling angry
  • Frequent mood swings
  • Feeling worthlesss
  • Frequent crying
  • Social withdrawal
  • Loss of energy or fatigue
  • Low self-esteem
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Treatment of Depression in Teenagers


Certain medications (i.e., SSRIs) are commonly used to treat depression in  adolescents and teens and like psychotherapy have been proven to be effective in reducing depressive symptoms. While the use of medication to treat depression in adolescents has grown steadily over the past couple of decades there remains concern regarding the safety of some medication use in teenagers. For more information regarding the use of medications in treating depression in children and adolescents click here to visit the NIMH website on the matter.


Psychotherapy (i.e., talk or behavioral therapy) is an effective treatment for depression in teens and adolescents and for mild to moderate depression is recommended as a first-line treatment. For more severe cases of depression a combination of medication and psychotherapy is typically recommended.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most researched and scientifically proven psychotherapy for treating depression in adolescents. CBT is a practical and easy to understand treatment approach that emphasizes the here-and-now and the development of effective coping skills and strategies. With teenagers, a combination of insight-oriented (e.g., changes in thinking, developing understanding) and behavioral interventions are typically utilized.

Family therapy

Family therapy is also commonly recommended for teenagers who are experiencing depression. Family therapy aims to help parents and caregivers learn how to more effectively provide support create a less stressful environment for their children. Family therapy can often increase the effectiveness of individual therapy with teens.