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Depression in Adolescence: 5 Insights Every Parent Needs to Know

1) Adolescence is a vulnerable period in the life of young people, marked by drastic hormonal changes in the body, rapid cognitive development, shifts in self-image, sexuality and peer relationships. This is a time for questioning one’s beliefs, distancing oneself from parents, and challenging societal norms. It is a time for finding one’s own place in the world in search of a unique identify, life goals and aspirations. It is a critical time but also a difficult period of transition from childhood to young adulthood, from a place of dependence to one of independence. Adolescents find themselves challenging authority, while at the same time anxiously needing it.

2) Risky behavior, acting out, depression and anxiety are among the most common mental health issues facing adolescents. It is not by chance that psychologists consider adolescence a period of developmental crisis that requires greater parental and educator involvement on a social and emotional level. Luckily, some behaviors are developmentally appropriate and no cause for concern. Knowing how to differentiate them from more serious behaviors and how to manage them is important for a successful crisis resolution.

3) Depression is probably one of the trickiest conditions to diagnose in adolescence because of the vast differences of its clinical presentation from adolescent to another. While some adolescents act out, others act in, making it that much more difficult for adults to notice that something may be wrong. What do I mean by acting in? Any behavior that will not be causing much noise and that will not be necessarily noticeable:

  • being socially withdrawn
  • self-injuring, including cutting, restricting food or vomiting after eating, bingeing
  • keeping to oneself and isolating
  • not making too many friends outside of school
  • not caring much about school and grades or the opposite, overachieving and striving for perfection
  • thinking about suicide and death

4) These kids are usually the ones who don’t cause any problems at school or at home, which is exactly why they are easy to overlook. You could hear teachers say good things about them or describe them as quiet, good kids. However, the quiet, good kids may also be very sensitive, self-conscious and emotional kids, who internalize rather than externalize their problems. In cases when adolescents like that become depressed, there is a serious cause for concern and an earlier intervention may prevent significant consequences, including suicide or mental illness later in life.

5) Sometimes, most often unintentionally, parents and siblings may be connected to the cause or unknowing contributors to the adolescents’ depression such as in cases of divorce, adoption, family discord, etc., which brings up feelings of shame, guilt, self-blame, anger and sadness. Inviting a stranger into the family dynamic such as a therapist, school social worker or psychiatrist may feel overwhelming and traumatic for some families. Naturally, as parents, we do the best we can and if things go wrong, we blame ourselves. What’s important though is to recognize that we can only do so much alone and that sometimes, it’s okay to turn to other people for help. Just like we take our kids to the doctor when they are sick, it’s okay to take our kids to a therapist, when they are not feeling well.

For more articles on common mental health issues affecting you and your family, subscribe to Mental Health Digest and get the latest issue emailed to you today by leaving your name and email address in the contact form here.

For more articles on children’s and adolescents’ behavioral and emotional development visit my Parenting Blog.

Have questions about depression and adolescence or have experienced it yourself? Leave a comment with your story below.

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Depression in Adolescence: 5 Insights Every Parent Needs to Know

Mihaela Bernard, MA, LCPC

Mihaela Bernard, MA, LCPC is a licensed clinical professional counselor and founder of Inside Family Counseling, LLC in Chicago. She is a Professional Member of the American Counseling Association and a member of Chicago Psychoanalytic Circle of the Freudian School of Quebec, Canada. She is the author of Mental Health Digest electronic magazine, your free, easy-to-read electronic resource on common mental health issues affecting you and your family, plus some suggestions on how to address them. She specializes in psychoanalytic psychotherapy for troubled children and adolescents, who face behavioral and emotional challenges at home and at school. Her mission is to empower, support and guide children, adolescents and their parents to a happy and healthy family. Mihaela also writes a Parenting Blog, where parents find helpful resources and practical tips on how to support their child and adolescent's behavioral and emotional development. You may find out more about her at

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APA Reference
, . (2015). Depression in Adolescence: 5 Insights Every Parent Needs to Know. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 20 Oct 2015
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