Tips to Help a Depressed Teen

Physical signs to look out for

In spotting the signs of depression, you may notice a teen complaining of physical changes, such as sleep disturbances, appetite changes (eating more or less than usual), gaining or losing weight, complaining of headaches, stomach aches, and joint and muscle aches. During a physical state, a teenager’s thinking can often get confused, meaning they are unable to understand their shifting mood states. This affects their ability to cope environmentally, for example, at school. While this condition causes physical symptoms, and on rare occasions has physical causes, it is not a disease, yet is often unpreventable except with medication.

Social/motivational symptoms

You may notice a teen’s lack of social activity deteriorating even more. Hanging out with friends or visiting and receiving visitors starts to become a struggle. Also, withdrawing from one’s immediate family, where a teen will spend much of their time in their room, begins to become apparent; and further, showing a lack of motivation when getting ready for school or out-of-school activities. Teenagers may also appear to lose interest in close relationships.

Variation in moods

Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, anger, agitation and despair also occur when a teen is depressed. Variation in moods can change throughout the day, which might be worse in the morning yet improve later in the day, or vice-versa. You may see a teen seemingly apathetic, and lose interest in school projects and the activities and hobbies they used to enjoy. Identifying why they’re feeling low or agitated is helpful. The “early warning systems” (see below) can help identify certain moods and help a teen to monitor and regulate how they’re feeling.

“Early Warning Systems” 

The “Early warning systems” can help a teen evaluate why they are feeling a particular way. For example, if a youngster starts to feel low in the afternoon, s/he might think that their mood will worsen and never get better, where it might mean they had little sleep the night before. By understanding and using the “early warning system”, a therapist or caregiver can help a teen grasp the difference between feelings and facts and how to determine what it is that caused their mood change in the first place. They learn to identify specific challenges, e.g., in certain environments, with people/friends, physical, emotional, negative lifestyle, medication etc. and how to problem solve. Finding the key to an early warning system means a depressed teen can then consider how to manage their moods independently.

Negative beliefs

Cognitive symptoms, which include a youngster’s experiencing persistent negative beliefs about themselves and their abilities, add to the problem. Cognitive symptoms can also slow down thoughts, making concentrating on tasks difficult. Taking in central coherence during class, remembering and making decisions, can also be part of depressed moods, so this is something else to consider if you find a young person’s grades suffering.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Since thoughts, feelings and behaviours interact, cognitive behavioural therapy can help a depressed teen think better about their negative thoughts. When unhelpful thoughts change for the better, feelings and behaviour also improves.


Early Warning Systems are key factors that can help support a clinically depressed teen. By evaluating why their moods are low, and then finding ways to manage them is essential for improved mental health. Also, cognitive therapy can help change unhelpful thoughts for better outcomes.

Carol Edwards © 2016. Updated Jan. 2019

Disclaimer: This document is information-based only; therefore if your child/teen is experiencing any of the symptoms discussed in this article, please consult with your medical practitioner for their advice, and before going ahead with suggested strategies. 

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