Tips to Help a Depressed Teen

Physical signs to look out for

In spotting the signs of depression, you may notice your 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, 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 means their ability to cope environmentally (e.g., at school) is reduced. 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 your teen’s lack of social activity deteriorating. Hanging out with friends or visiting/receiving visitors starts to become a struggle. Also, withdrawing from one’s immediate family where your teen will spend much of their time in their room starts 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 for them, which might be worse in the morning yet improve later in the day; or vice-versa. You may see your teen seemingly apathetic. They may start to 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 a teen to monitor and regulate their moods.

“Early Warning Systems” 

The “Early warning systems” helps teens evaluate why they are feeling a particular way. For example, if your 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 can help a teen begin to 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

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

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Since thoughts, feelings and behaviours interact, cognitive behavioural therapy can help a depressed person think clearer about their negative thoughts. A therapist can help them see how changing unhelpful thoughts can also change how they feel and behave.


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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