Detecting Early Signs of Depression in Your Teenager

early signs of depression

Do you think your teenager might be exhibiting early signs of depression? Being a teen is not easy at times. Almost an adult, starting to drive, teenagers experience more pressure to act like an adult, even though the human brain is not fully developed until the early to mid-20’s. Your teen might deal with this pressure and show signs of irritability, mood swings and acting out behaviors– and frankly those are on par for the course. But how do you know when it’s more than just teen angst?

Have you noticed your teen start to identify more with a type of music? Try out new hairstyles? Get more involved in politics? Today is a day of a great show of what impassioned youth can take on in an effort to literally change the world and raise attention regarding climate change. If your teen battles you on political or religious issues, this is considered quite normal as most parents would agree. If you’re confused on whether these are early signs of depression or just normal teenage behavior, I’m here to help.

Early Signs of Depression

  • Irritability that occurs MOST of the time
  • Social Isolation: they stop doing their favorite activities or sports
  • Excessive sleeping or a lack of sleep
  • Chronic Fatigue
  • Body Aches


An early sign of depression that you may seen in your teen is irritability, but let’s be honest, teens can be irritable for no reason at all, too! If you notice that the mood of your teen does not recover as quickly as it should, or you see that they stay down or irritable for days, take note.

Isolating Patterns

Irritability may lead to your child starting to show an increased pattern of isolation. Remember, teens want and need their space and independence, but, if there is a drastic change, be curious and engage. While some of this is healthy, if it is becoming an unhealthy pattern, it could be an early sign of depression.

You should try different communication tactics to try with your teen. It is typical for teens to rely more on friends to disclose personal information and details about their lives, but dedicating time each week to be present and spend time with them in whatever they enjoy to be available for them to open up. Stay engaged and involved with their lives without being overbearing, but, always be attentive to their mood and ready to listen when they want to talk. Don’t be judgmental.

Sleep Changes

While teenagers naturally start to sleep more, to maintain a good state of physical and mental health, they need to have healthy sleep. Most teens need between 9-9.5 hrs of sleep per night. Allowing your teens to stay up an extra hour (or 2) on the weekend to see their favorite concert or to sleep in an hour or two on the weekend is part of allowing them to start to start making grown up choices.

There are ways to help them sleep better if they are having issues, but if you are not successful in helping them into a more healthy sleeping routine, this shift in sleep may be an early sign of depression. Letting a teen sleep in till noon every weekend or stay up till 3 am Friday and Saturday is allowing them to set a bad habit that may stick with them for years. You may want to seek help from an adolescent psychiatrist to help detect if the underlying problem is larger than anticipated.

Fatigue and Body Aches: Sports or Early Signs of Depression?

If your teen is an athlete, fatigue and body aches may be due to intense workouts and practices. Encouraging these activities are a great way to improve your teens health. Athletes typically get better grades and the benefits persist into college. Physical activity boots the brains level of dopamine and natural endorphins that are protective of depression. Follow their lead on which physical activities they want to do, but, as a parent and psychiatrist, I insist that both my children must do at least one physical activity.  The neural networks that are build using the motor cortex and cerebellum bathe the entire brain in healthy neurotransmitters that keep all parts of the brain functioning properly. Different activities build different executive functioning parts of the teenage brain. It is important, regardless of the sport, that your teen learns early about the importance of healthy eating, too.

Is your teenager suffering from excessive fatigue or body aches and isn’t involved in regular physical activity? This is not normal. Take a look at what they are eating and how much physical activity they are getting. If this is coupled with some of the other early signs of depression, you may want to consult a psychiatrist.

In summary, stay attentive and be proactive if you see early signs of depression. I’m here to help if you have additional questions about identify and combating these symptoms.