causes for teen depression

Helpful Guide for Causes of Teen Depression

Undoubtedly, being a teen is not easy. While teens usually don’t have much responsibility in the family, it is not unusual for them to experience feeling pressured or down occasionally. It is a harsh reality that adolescence is an unsettling time involving numerous physical, social, psychological, and emotional changes. When teens consistently experience rejection or pressure, and many things go wrong for them, they can experience teen depression.
Teen depression is a serious mental and emotional health issue that often results in losing interest in activities which negatively affects lifestyle and relationships. This guide will help with the recognition of teen depression by filling you in on the causes of it. Remember, this is not a substitute for a medical diagnosis and professional intervention. Proper guidance through knowledge of the causes of teen depression will help parents to maintain good teen mental health.
Teen depression is typically associated with high anxiety and stress levels. It is a real medical condition that needs strict attention and teen depression treatment for the affected person to continue living a good quality of life. Ignoring it will not make it go away on its own. It is good to remember that teens with depression have not done anything wrong to cause it, and teen depression is not a weakness. Even though it might be a long battle to overcome, teen depression symptoms can be eased with a combination of therapy, lifestyle interventions, medication, and psychological counseling. 
There is no need for anyone to feel ashamed about reaching out for professional help for teen depression. Being well-informed about the causes of teen depression and being prepared to do something about them can avoid a lot of suffering.
Admittedly, the cause of teen depression is often not an absolute, definite factor. The causes are wide-ranging and complex. Additionally, many factors are connected to developing teen depression. Some of the usual causes are listed below.

Early childhood trauma

Teens who have experienced traumatic events during childhood, such as the loss of a parent, and physical or emotional abuse, may experience negative brain changes. A vulnerable teen with an experience of childhood trauma is more susceptible to depression. If you know that your teen has a childhood trauma to manage, take the first step and get them to help to recover from it, thereby avoiding serious teenage mental health issues.
Remember that moving on from past traumas with the help of a mental health professional is an effective way to avoid developing another mental health issue in the future. 

Brain chemistry

Brain chemistry matters greatly in mental health. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring key brain chemicals responsible for carrying signals to the brain and body parts for regulating moods and behavior. When a teen’s brain chemicals are impaired or become abnormal, the function of nerve systems and nerve receptors changes negatively. Unfavorable changes in brain chemistry are among the causes of some teen depression.

Inherited traits

According to research, depression has a genetic component and can run in families. Mental illness is more common in teens whose blood relatives, such as a parent or grandparent, also have the condition. Since depression can be passed down, teens who have relatives with depression must be mindful and careful of their mental health. However, teens without a history of depression in the family can still develop teen depression. Family teen therapy is helpful for determining these links and finding a way forward.


The teenage years are a time of tremendous hormonal upheaval. This can be difficult to cope with, particularly if there are negative outside issues to contend with as well. Depression can be triggered. Hormonal imbalances may be caused by incorrect diet and lifestyle as well as environmental problems. 

Learned patterns of negative thinking

Teenagers who are regularly exposed to pessimistic thinking and mindsets become vulnerable and have a high chance of developing teenage depression. Besides being exposed to pessimistic thinking, teens who are also deprived of learning how to overcome challenges can often feel hopeless. Without proper management of emotions and lacking positive examples about handling problems, teens who regularly feel down and frustrated can develop teen depression later on.

Social situation or family circumstances

The unfortunate reality of life is that some teenagers live in difficult circumstances such as poverty, domestic abuse, substance abuse, and other family issues. Unfortunate circumstances like these can cause constant stress and feelings of hopelessness, contributing to a negative affect towards life that can develop into teen depression.

Medications or illegal drugs

Medical conditions can also cause teen depression because even some legal and prescription medications can have depression as one of their side effects. Of course, illegal drugs are worse, and they carry a higher risk of causing teen depression.

Major Depression in Teens

Major depression is among the three main types of depression and is a serious type of mood disorder that teenagers can develop if they cannot cope with the adjustments and challenges they encounter. It is also typically known as clinical depression or unipolar depression. Like other mood disorders, there is no single cause of major depression as many factors play a role, including genetics and the environment.
The other main types of depression include bipolar disorder, otherwise known as manic depression, and persistent depressive disorder or dysthymia. Major depression is not just being unhappy or in a blue mood. It disrupts a teen’s entire body, mood, and thoughts, negatively affecting their quality of life in terms of eating, sleeping, and thinking patterns. Therefore, major depression happens beyond the day’s normal ups and downs.
Even though a teen with major depression will find it relatively impossible to pull themselves together and get better alone, it is not a sign of personal weakness. What a teen with major depression needs is teen mental health treatment and therapy. There’s no doubt that an early diagnosis and treatment are vital because major depression can trigger other mental health problems, including anxiety disorder, substance abuse, and even suicide attempts.

Without the right teen drug treatment and therapy, a teen with major depression can suffer from it for many months and even years. The inevitable results of untreated major depression include relationship and social problems and a higher risk of suicide. Read on to learn the key points about major depression in teens.

Key points to remember about major depression in teenagers

To help remove the stigma about major teen depression, remembering the key points below is important.
  • Major depression is not the same as occasionally being unhappy or in a blue mood. It is a serious mood disorder and among the primary types of depression. Clearly, it is not a life decision that someone chooses. It can be treated with a combination of medicine and psychotherapy. 
  • A teen with major depression needs to accept that they have a disorder and that it might take time and effort to feel better. Acceptance and awareness of the mental health disorder are the keys to focusing on treatment that can make things change positively in a shorter time. 
  • A teen with blood relatives, such as a parent or grandparent, who have major depression has a higher risk of developing major depression too. Family history can be a cause of mental disorders. Also, stress, trauma, and abuse (physical and mental) give a teen a higher probability of developing major depression. 
  • Common symptoms of major depression include consistent and long-term feelings of despair, guilt, and sadness. It is not surprising that a teen with major depression can lose interest in activities and relationships, and have problems with eating and sleeping. 
  • A mental health professional can diagnose if a teenager is suffering from major depression after a thorough mental health evaluation and interview. 
  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy) and prescribed medicines can help treat and manage major depression well. 
  • Major depression is closely related to a higher risk of suicide and can trigger other mental health problems. 
  • A teen with major depression needs a multidisciplinary team on their side that includes family members, mental health professionals, and school staff to get better. 
  • A teen with major depression must know that asking for help is not a form of weakness. It is a basic solution to get on the right path to being better.  

Teens who are at risk for major depression

Admittedly, some teens are more likely to have major depression than others because of some risk factors. A teen has a higher chance of developing a mood disorder if they have or have experienced the following:
  • A family history of depression, especially if the blood relative had it when young 
  • Lots of stress, including having issues that negatively impact self-esteem
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Other mental health problems, such as an anxiety disorder, anorexia or bulimia, bipolar disorder, or a personality disorder
  • Abuse or neglect
  • A traumatic brain injury
  • Emotional or physical trauma, like being a victim of or witnessing traumatic experiences, such as bullying, academic problems, peer issues, physical or sexual abuse
  • Loss of a parent, caregiver, or other loved ones
  • Loss of a relationship, such as losing a partner or moving away
  • Other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, or asthma 
  • Gender issues, especially if the teenager is bullied
  • Other developmental, learning, or conduct disorders, like a learning disability or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Being gay, bisexual, lesbian, or transgender in an unsupportive environment
  • Having a loved one who died by suicide
  • Having a family with major relationship and communication issues

How is depression in teens different from depression in adults?

The harsh reality is that depression can happen to anyone because it is an indiscriminate mental health disorder. People can develop depression regardless of their race, gender, age, or socioeconomic level. The cause of depression is not one simple reason. Instead, the causes are dynamic and complicated. That’s why it might be difficult and complex for someone to understand what an individual with depression truly feels and experiences.
Even though teenagers and adults can be depressed, their symptoms can vary and manifest in different ways. Depression in teens can be somewhat different from depression in adults. Some differences include:
Physical pain without an obvious cause
Teens who are suffering from depression are more likely to feel constant pain and aches for no apparent reason compared to adults with depression. This physical pain might also be associated with puberty.
Rapid changes in mood
Compared to adults, teenagers experience a tremendous number of hormonal and chemical changes. The dramatic changes can cause teens with depression to rapidly cycle between many emotions, such as hostility, sadness, frustration, and outward aggression. That’s why many teens are often viewed by society as “moody”.
Adults with depression have the ability to retreat or (outwardly) suppress their feelings. Remember that it is not a good thing because suppressing feelings can trigger other mental health issues. On the flip side, teenagers suffering from depression have difficulty suppressing their feelings. This opens them up to criticism which can lead to further feelings of rejection and anger. They are also increasingly likely to be triggered by criticism due to their environmental factors such as social media or experience a sudden loss of self-esteem due to negative comments from their peers.
Greater stigma on teen depression
Unfortunately, teenagers with depression are often negatively judged by society. Their mental health disorder is often viewed as “normal teen moodiness,” causing them to feel guilty and hesitate to ask for help. On the other hand, adults suffering from depression have their mental health disorder seen as more clinically significant. Basically, adults’ mental health illnesses are more recognized because they have already outgrown their hormonal upheaval phase.

Symptoms of Major Depression in a Teen

Teen depression is increasing at an alarming rate. It is a serious reality that needs prompt, appropriate treatment and therapy. Additionally, depression can take several forms, such as bipolar disorder which can alternate between periods of depression and euphoria.
Depression can be difficult to diagnose in teens because society already expects teens to be moody. Many teens do not always understand or express their feelings very well. Besides that, many teens might not be aware that their issues might signify depression and be unaware of their need to seek help and treatment. 
Moreover, depression symptoms can vary in severity. Teens might overlook some things that are symptoms of depression. When a teen experiences the following symptoms that last for more than two weeks and remain persistent, take them as a sign to intervene and seek professional help.

Behavioral changes

Watch out for warning signs of changes in behavior that can be symptoms of depression, such as.
  • Social isolation
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Insomnia
  • Sleeping too much
  • Constant lack of energy and tiredness
  • Less attention to personal hygiene and appearance
  • Frequent absences from school and poor performance
  • Teen school refusal
  • Changes in appetite, such as increased cravings for food and weight gain or decreased appetite and weight loss
  • Slowed thinking, speech, or body movements
  • Agitation or restlessness — for instance, hand-wringing, pacing, or inability to remain still
  • Regular complaints of unexplained body aches and headaches
  •  Regular visits to the school nurse or doctor
  • Frequent angry outbursts, disruptive or risky behavior, or other acting-out behaviors
  • Self-harm, such as cutting or burning
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Creating a suicide plan 
  • Attempting to commit suicide

Emotional changes

Be alert for changes in emotion that can be symptoms of depression, such as.
  • Lack of enthusiasm or motivation
  • Feelings of being unable to satisfy ideals
  • Overreaction to unharmful criticism
  • Poor self-esteem or guilt
  • Constant feelings of frustration or anger, even over small matters
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Regular and long term feelings of sadness, such as crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Constantly feeling hopeless 
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying, or suicide
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in usually enjoyed activities or hobbies
  • Low confidence and self-esteem
  • Regularly feel irritable or annoyed in mood
  • Feeling empty inside
  • Constant and ongoing sense that life and the future are grim
  • Fixation and obsession with past failures or exaggerated self-blame, or self-criticism
  • Trouble and frustration with thinking, making decisions, concentrating and remembering things
  • Excessive sensitivity to failure or rejection and the need for excessive reassurance
If you suspect that your teen is developing depression check it using a quick, easy, and confidential way by getting them to take a teen mental health screening. While it is not a professional diagnosis, it can help with understanding the symptoms and being more encouraged to seek immediate help from trustworthy mental health professionals.

Diagnosing Teen Depression

One good thing about the alarming rate of teen depression is that much help is available and constant action is being taken. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended in 2016 that youths aged 12 to 18 undergo screening for clinical depression or major depressive disorder. That way, diagnosing teen depression becomes much easier, and teen mental health is closely observed.
Additionally, the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2018 also highly encouraged youth to go through depression screening. The youth can receive depression screening from their primary care doctors. These doctors follow the AAP guidelines or adult guidelines in screening teen depression. However, mental health professionals can do better in evaluating teen depression by using a mental health evaluation.
Part of the teen mental health evaluation includes looking at the teen’s school performance, family history, and comfort in a peer setting. Aside from talking with a teen, the mental health professional also evaluates by interviewing the teen’s parent or caregiver about the teen’s recent mood and behavior.
When the doctor or mental health professional suspects that a teen has depression, the teen typically needs to undergo the following tests and exams:
Physical Exam
A physical exam is necessary for diagnosing teen depression because there are some instances in which underlying physical health issues cause teen depression. It is essential that mental health professionals check the teen’s physical health because there are times when treating physical issues, such as hormonal imbalances, causes teens to recover from their mental health issues. When physical health problems have been ruled out, mental health professionals can focus on finding the other possible causes of teen depression.
Lab Tests
Lab tests are also crucial in diagnosing teen depression. Included in these lab tests are blood tests including a full blood count and a check to see if the thyroid gland is functioning as it should.
Psychological Evaluation
As for psychological evaluation, the doctor or mental health professional talks with the teen about their thoughts, feelings, and behavior to better understand their mental health. Besides the interview, the teen will be asked to answer questionnaires.
A teen must meet the criteria for the teen depression symptoms to be diagnosed as depressed. For at least two weeks, a teen with depression episodes must also have and show at least five of the symptoms below: 
  • Fatigue
  • Depressed mood most of the day
  • A declined interest in most or all activities, especially the most enjoyed ones before 
  • Noticeable agitation or psychomotor retardation that negatively affects day-to-day activities
  • A diminished ability to concentrate and think 
  • Excessive guilt and feelings of worthlessness
  • Significant but unintentional weight gain or weight loss
  • Excessive sleepiness or insomnia

How to Treat Teen’s Depression

Fortunately, there are many available treatments for a teen’s depression. However, the treatment varies depending on the teen’s severity of depression symptoms, the causes, the person’s general health, and their age. One thing is certain; teen depression can be treated most of the time. Generally, a combination of medication and psychotherapy or talk therapy is the most effective treatment for most young adults with depression.
Before taking a closer look at the teen depression treatment options below, you must know that teens with severe depression or who have inflicted self-harm need to stay in a hospital or join a teen intensive outpatient program until their mental health status improves.
The teen depression treatment may include one or more of the following: 
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two medications for treating teen depression — escitalopram (Lexapro) and fluoxetine (Prozac). Before taking any depression medication, teens must talk to a doctor or mental health professional to discuss the possible side effects. They must think about the risks and benefits to make the right decision. Often, finding the right teen depression medication is a trial and error process.
These are helpful when combined with psychotherapy because there is a need to watch the effect of the medicines. It is handy to remember that the FDA demands that all antidepressants must have a strict warning for prescriptions. Teens taking an antidepressant must be closely monitored in case of suicidal thoughts, worsening of depression, or unusual behaviors.
More often than not, though, antidepressants have more benefits than risks. The best effect of antidepressants on teens with depression is to improve their mood. As a result, they will have a lower probability of suicide risk in the long run. When finding the right antidepressants, patience is needed because the body also needs some time for adjustments to see the side effects and results.
While most antidepressants are generally safe to take, most teens have specific antidepressants that will be more effective for them. That’s why close monitoring is highly advisable to prevent bothersome side effects.
Psychotherapy, commonly termed psychological counseling or talk therapy, is another effective treatment for teen depression. As the name implies, the treatment revolves around a mental health professional talking with the teen about depression and related issues. Psychotherapy may be done as individual therapy in a one-on-one session.
Besides that, psychotherapy also has options for group therapy. Through psychotherapy, teens with depression can show improvement, like the following:
  • Realize and find better ways to cope with encounter issues and problems
  • Better understand the causes of teen depression
  • Know how to adjust to a crisis or other current difficulty efficiently
  • Understand how to make changes in unhealthy behaviors and thoughts
  • Ease depression symptoms, including anger and hopelessness
  • Gain a better sense of happiness and control
  • Set realistic and achievable goals 
Family Therapy
Family therapy can have a hugely positive impact on the treatment of teen depression. Undeniably, family members’ support, love, and care are key for a teen to find hope and feel a better sense of self-worth while managing depression.
School Input
In treating teen depression, everyone in their lives can help. That’s why part of treatment for teen depression is the school’s input. School counselors and psychologists can work together to create resources and advocates for all young adults. That way, the school can lessen its contribution to the causes of teen depression in the first place, such as bullying. Prevention is also a way of advanced treatment.
Hospitalization and other treatment programs
Unfortunately, some teens with depression can develop severe symptoms, especially when not treated immediately. The best treatment in these cases is for them to stay in a hospital for close monitoring to make the teen calm and safe until they’ve regained their strength and can use coping skills. Hence, day treatment programs help get teen depression symptoms under control.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some frequently asked questions about teen depression. 
What are the 5 causes of depression?
There is no single cause of depression. In reality, there are many things that can increase the chance of developing depression. The 5 primary causes of depression include abuse, death or loss of a loved one, serious physical illness, medication or illegal drugs, and inherited traits. When problems pile up one on top of another, one has a greater probability of developing depression.
Why do many teenagers feel depressed?
Multiple reasons are to blame for why many teenagers sometimes feel depressed. These may be social status with peers, family life, sexual orientation, and school performance.
What are the symptoms of depression in teenage girls?
There are multiple symptoms of depression in teenage girls, such as feelings of sadness, low self-esteem, irritable or annoyed mood, feeling hopeless or empty, loss of interest in activities, sleep difficulties, and many more symptoms that negatively affect the teenage girls’ life. 
What exactly are the symptoms of depression?
There is no one exact symptom of depression but rather a combination of signs. A teen can experience multiple symptoms altogether, including loss of interest in activities, feelings of sadness, irritable or annoyed mood, feeling hopeless or empty, low self-esteem, weight loss or gain, and many more symptoms that interfere with day-to-day life.
What are the social causes of depression?
Many social causes can trigger depression. Some examples included are social failures, social isolation, moving into another city, abusive relationships, serious trauma or bullying, the death of a loved one, and many more.
Does depression have a genetic component?
According to research, depression runs in the family history and suggests that genetic factors contribute to developing depression. That means that when you have a blood relative with a history of depression, you have more risk of developing mental illness. However, not everyone who has a family history of depression will necessarily become depressed.
What are three risk factors for depression?
Some teens are more likely to have major depression than others. Teens are more at risk of depression if it is part of their family history, if they’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury, or if they’re having gender issues in an unsupported environment.

Final Thoughts

Being aware of the causes of teen depression together with the risks can help lessen the probability of teenagers developing teen depression or committing suicide. For teenagers who think they are experiencing teen depression or their parents who are residing in Pacific Palisades, Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Westwood, or Brentwood, Key Healthcare can help them to cope with mental health illnesses. 
Call us to learn more about our teen depression treatment programs.