Is My Teen Depressed?  Adolescence and Depression: Signs to Look out For

by Francesca Scaini, RP, MA, BFA, CATA
Art Therapist
Registered Psychotherapist


Do you remember your own teen years and how intense everything felt? A time where
the most insignificant problems were earth-shattering and caused you to either skyrocket to emotional bliss or nosedive into severe distress. We have all been there. However, when distress is prolonged it could possibly indicate something more serious. Depression may sometimes be mistaken as typical teenage moodiness, but it is a mental illness that should be taken seriously.

Symptoms of Depression in Adolescence

Coping with the physical changes of puberty, individuation from the family, developing
sexual intimacy, identity formation, and becoming more independent, may lead teenagers to an insecure and unhappy state of mind as they face the unknown. Most teens can make it through this stage of development with minimal stress and only periods of despondency.  However, some teenagers experience prolonged and persistent states of sadness, emptiness, or hopelessness that things will never get better. It is important to recognize the differences between the average mood swings of adolescence and the more pervasive signs of depression.

Here are some warning signs to look out for:

  • Changes in feelings: showing signs of persistent unhappiness, feeling that life
    has no meaning, hopelessness, emptiness, guilt, loneliness and shame.
  • Changes in physical health: significant weight loss or weight gain; insomnia or
    hypersomnia; complaints of body aches and pains that are not explainable.
  • Changes in appearance: lack of interest in personal appearance and hygiene;
    flattened or saddened looking affect.
  • Changes in behaviour: loss of energy; withdrawn behaviour from friends and
    usual activities; constant boredom; behavioural problems at school; trouble in
    relationships; poor school performance; giving away belongings; writing about
  • Changes in thinking: thoughts of worthlessness; constant self-criticism; extreme
    sensitivity to rejection; low self-esteem; pessimistic thoughts; poor
    concentration; preoccupation about death and life being meaningless; lack of
    future oriented thinking; thoughts about suicide; comments like: “You’d be
    better off without me” or “There is no point in living.”

Causes of Depression in Adolescence

There is no definitive cause of depression. Depression is extremely nuanced effecting
each individual differently with many unique contributing factors.
There has been some research that suggests depressed teens have histories of excessive
crying, colic, head banging and sleep disturbances in their infancy. As an infant grows,
behavioural problems can emerge in place of depressive feelings in childhood. Some examples include: disobedience or defiance, temper-tantrums, running away from home, physical fighting or bullying other children at school, and self-destructive behaviours. The child learns to believe that they are bad and unacceptable. These feelings may eventually lead to anti-social and withdrawn behaviour, which subsequently supports their negative core belief that they are worthless. Perceived failures throughout childhood can make the adolescent journey more
difficult and may foreshadow a depressive state (S. Riley, 1999).

Some other predictive factors may include the following:

  • Distress or trauma caused by social or familial circumstances (loss of a loved one, a breakup, divorce, physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence, poverty,
    substance abuse etc.).
  • Genetic susceptibility (family history of depression).
  • Medications or drugs that have depressive side-effects.
  • Medical illnesses with depressive symptoms.


It is important to note that if your child exhibits signs of depression, it does not mean
that they are necessarily clinically depressed. If you are worried that your child is depressed, you should consider speaking with a mental health professional.  Although depression can be extremely difficult, it is not something to be ashamed of and it is treatable.  360 Healing Centre offers psychotherapy and art therapy that may be helpful in supporting you and your child. Feel free to contact us to speak with a Psychotherapist or Art Therapist.


Canadian Mental Health Association (2020). Electronic Source. Retrieved from

Experts, Y. (2018). A Few Signs Your Teenager May Be Depressed. Electronic Source: PsychCentral. Retrieved from

Malchiodi, C. A. (2012). The handbook of art therapy. New York: The Guilford Press.
Riley, S (1997). Adolescence, depression and the impact of societal issues. pp. 115-152. London: Jessica Kingsley.

Riley, S (1999). Contemporary Art Therapy with Adolescents. London: Jessica Kingsley.