Teens face many pressures in our fast-paced world. They endure the natural body and hormone changes we all faced as young people, plus questions of identity and finding a place socially, emotionally and psychologically. But teen depression goes further than normal moodiness and can sometimes be hard to diagnose. The good news is that teen depression is treatable and young lives can be rescued back to normalcy.

In 2020 the Psychiatric Research and Clinical Practice journal published a piece that linked the alarming rise in mental health issues for teens to increased technology use. It cited loneliness stemming from reduced face-to-face social interactions, poorer communication when with peers due to interrupted interactions, poor sleep patterns and less quality sleep. It also cited cyberbullying and toxic online interactions, including a tendency for young people to encourage others to self-harm in a contagious negative online space.

Today, the poor mental health and suicidal tendencies of our young people are even more alarming. Teen suicide is on the rise, especially in young girls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly one in three girls will seriously consider attempting suicide—up nearly 60% from a decade ago. One in five girls report an incident of sexual violence, and one in 10 report having been forced to have sex. Teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or questioning report extreme and ongoing distress in their struggles with mental health.

The pandemic has exacerbated the mental health challenges for our young people. Sheri Madigan, associate professor of clinical psychology and chair of research at the University of Calgary, reports that at the height of the pandemic, incidents of depression and anxiety doubled. And the longer the pandemic restrictions lasted, the worse the problems became. Issues of social isolation, missed milestones such as graduations, family financial problems related to the virus and school disruptions all worked together to further stress and isolate young people.

Feelings of persistent sadness and hopelessness increased as predictability in daily life routines disappeared. Additionally, many of the mental health resources available in a given community—mentors, counselors and other support systems often centered within schools, were not available during shutdowns.

It is vital that adults understand and recognize when teens are struggling with mental health issues and are able to direct them to supportive measures.

How to Know Teens Need Help

Since most teens go through some times of sadness and ups and downs of emotions, it can be difficult to know when they are really in trouble. Here are some behaviors to watch for, which, taken together, can alert parents and other adults to their need for help.

  • Troubles at School, including poor attendance, lack of focus and a drop in grades

  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse in an attempt to bury their pain.

  • Lower Self Esteem in which teens may feel ashamed, unworthy or unappealing.

  • Reckless Behavior where they engage in high-risk driving, drinking or unsafe sex.

  • Internet Addiction as a means of escaping real life and increasing their sense of isolation.

  • Violent Behavior, more common in boys, can be the result of bullying.

In other cases, extreme behaviors such as cutting (self-injury) or eating disorders may be the result of depression.

In addition to the above behaviors, adults may notice that their teens display some of the following behaviors:

  • Sadness or hopelessness

  • Irritability, anger, hostility

  • Frequent crying

  • Withdrawal from friends and activities

  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits

  • Fatigue and lack of energy

  • Unexplained aches and pains

  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Again, everyone feels some negative feelings from time to time. The key is to watch for patterns, sudden changes in behavior or a combination of the above problems that become worrisome to family members, teachers and others who know the teen well.

Springtime is the time of year when the highest number of suicide attempts among teens takes place. It coincides with the pressures of final exams, fears related to college entrance or other future plans and, sometimes, the worries related to such events as proms and other social events.

Some warning signs that a teen may be contemplating suicide include:

  • Talking or joking about suicide

  • Speaking about death or saying they’d be better off dead

  • Writing about death, dying or suicide

  • Engaging in risky behavior that causes them to be injured

  • Giving away prized possessions

  • Seeking out weapons or pills

  • Saying goodbye to friends and family members

How You Can Help

Parents can play a role in identifying teen depression and become champions of hope and recovery. You know your child best. Here are some ways you can support teens suffering from depression and thoughts of suicide:

  • Focus on listening to the teen, not teaching, reprimanding or lecturing.

  • Be persistent in talking with them about the things they’re feeling.

  • Accept their feelings and don’t try to change their minds. Acknowledging their pain and sadness can build trust.

  • Since you know the teen well, trust your instincts in noticing dangerous behaviors and attitudes and directing the teen toward help via a counselor, teacher or mental health professional.

  • Do your best to keep the teen engaged in positive activities such as sports, clubs or volunteer work. Isolation is the enemy of the depressed teen.

  • Spend time with the teen. Talking without distractions can play a big role in helping the teen come to grips with problems.

  • Depressed teens need adequate nutrition, sleep and clear boundaries related to their social lives. They need a “safety net” in which to live.

Become familiar with available mental health support systems. Below, find helplines and other sources of support for teens who may be suicidal.



CDC Newsroom, U.S. Teen Girls Experiencing Increased Sadness and Violence, February 13, 2023.

Parent’s Guide to Teen Depression, Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms and Helping Your Child, Helpguide.org.

Mayo Clinic, Symptoms and Causes of Teen Depression

Psychiatric Research and Clinical Practice Journal, Increases in Depression, Self-harm and Suicide Among U.S. Adolescents after 2012 and Links to Technology Use: Possible Mechanisms, Jean M. Twenge, Ph. D., 2020.

Time Health, There’s a Startling Increase in Major Depression Among Teens in the U.S., Susanna Schrobsdorff, Nov. 2016.

Western Journal of Medicine, Identifying and Treating Adolescent Depression, Tompson, NcNeil, Rea and Asarnow, March, 2000.

Looking for a mental health resource near you?

Be Resilient And Voice Emotions

The BRAVE program seeks to break down the stigma associated with seeking assistance for mental health, breaking down barriers to receiving support and ensuring that people have access to the services they need to thrive. The program began with a focus on students and quickly grew to serve people of all ages with a connection to behavioral health services.

Learn More