How to Recognize Depression and Anxiety in Teens

Suicide rates in the United States over the past 15 years have skyrocketed, making suicide a growing epidemic in our country. 

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that a suicide occurs in the United States once every 12 minutes. And the Centers for Disease Control reports that in children and young adults ages 10 to 24, suicide is the second leading cause of death.

Behind the vast majority of these suicides are two other growing epidemics: depression and anxiety.

Statistics from the NIMH estimate that 3.2 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 experience a major depressive episode each year. That’s a little more than 13 percent of the adolescent population. The prevalence in teenage girls, however, is disproportionately high: 20 percent (compared to 6.8 percent in teen boys). 

Perhaps the most startling of these numbers, though, is the 60 percent of teens with major depression who never get help but instead suffer in silence, either because they don’t recognize depression in themselves, their parents don’t recognize it, or because they simply don’t have the means to access help.

Like depression, anxiety is also on the rise in young people. The Child Mind Institute estimates that 1 in 3 adolescents experiences some type of anxiety, with as many as 80 percent not receiving any treatment. 

Often, depression and anxiety do not exist on their own. Teens who have depression frequently develop anxiety as well, and vice versa. 

Additionally, depression and anxiety in young people are commonly associated with substance abuse, eating disorders, and self-injury, such as cutting. 

Girls are more likely to struggle with the latter two problems, while boys are more likely to become entangled with substance abuse.

For parents, combatting these epidemics can sometimes feel like a harrowing journey impeded by difficulties that come from every direction, including teen bullying, social media, sheer exhaustion, and the cost of therapy and other treatment. 

But that does not mean fighting depression and anxiety is impossible. The first and most important step is recognizing that there is such an epidemic in our country and then becoming educated about the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Here is a quick primer to help parents begin that education.

While teens exhibit several of the same, classic symptoms of depression and anxiety that adults do, there are quite a few symptoms that are unique to adolescents. 

Parents should be on the lookout for a combination of these signs in their teens:

  1. Unexplained aches and pains
  2. Sudden, extreme sensitivity to criticism 
  3. Withdrawal from social activities 
  4. A change in friend groups
  5. A change in sleeping patterns
  6. A change in grades or a lack of involvement in school where there used to be active involvement
  7. A change in eating habits 
  8. Irritability
  9. Angry and/or emotional outbursts
  10. Frequent bouts of sadness or crying
  11. A loss of energy or a general sense of lethargy
  12. Comments about low self-esteem and/or guilt
  13. Bouts of indecision or forgetfulness in a child that previously exhibited confidence and accountability
  14. Talk of death or suicide
That last one is likely the scariest of the listed symptoms and should be addressed by closer listening and observation, increased communication, and consultation with a doctor or therapist. 

Parents should listen or watch for these 8 signs if they suspect their teen may be experiencing suicidal ideation:

  1. Talking or joking about committing suicide
  2. Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out”
  3. Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more”)
  4. Writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide
  5. Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury
  6. Giving away prized possessions
  7. Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for the last time
  8. Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves
If you recognize any of these signs in your teenager, talk with them about their feelings. 

Current research indicates that talking about suicidal feelings does not increase them. In fact, some research suggests that “acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce, rather than increase suicidal ideation, and may lead to improvements in mental health in treatment-seeking populations.” 

Finding a therapist that is compatible with your teen is a good place to start once you’ve identified symptoms of depression or anxiety. 

And, if your teen is willing, there are also many things they can do outside of a typical therapy setting to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

These include diet changesexerciseevaluating feelings of self-worth, and simply spending more time outdoors in the sunlight or connecting with nature

On a recent Emotions Mentor podcast, I spoke with two young adults who battled depression as teens, and they provided much good advice for both parents and teenagers. 

I encourage you to listen to the podcast and find hope in the accounts of two wonderful young women who have been able to overcome their own depression. 

And, if you worry that your teen is suffering from depression and anxiety, don’t forget that the most important step in difficult endeavors—even this one—is first recognizing what is wrong and choosing to fix it!

Essential Oil Tips

Essential oils can tap into the brain’s chemistry and—in combination with traditional therapy or other changes—help lessen symptoms of depression and anxiety in many individuals. 

Here are 4 ways to use essential oils to help fight depression and anxiety:

  1. Diffuse 3 drops wild orange and 3 drops frankincense several times a day.
  2. Rub 2 or 3 drops of bergamot between your hands and breathe in deeply in an even pattern for 1 minute when you begin feeling anxious.
  3. Diffuse lavender before bed at the same time each night.
  4. Get regular massages, with a few drops ylang ylang mixed into your masseuse’s standard massage oil.
Best Wishes, 
Rebecca Hintze 

PS. To learn about how you or your teens can manage your emotions, check out our Emotions and Essential Oils Course! 

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