Teens face a number of changes, challenges, and other factors that can lead to depression.

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It’s not always easy being a teenager. As if the pressures around you aren’t enough, your body is also growing and going through changes and sometimes throwing your hormones off the charts.

As adults, it can be easy to forget the challenges teenagers face. Just because most teens aren’t paying bills or have fewer responsibilities than adults, doesn’t mean they’re not experiencing stress.

Daily stressors that teens face may lead to feelings of overwhelm or decreased interest in activities they once enjoyed. These feelings may affect their day-to-day lives and possibly persist past 2 weeks, which can cause symptoms of depression.

According to recent research, an estimated 3.8 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 have experienced at least one major depressive episode.

With the support of a mental health professional, teenagers can identify treatment options that will best suit their needs.

There isn’t always a clear-cut reason for feeling depressed or experiencing depression.

Experts believe the factors contributing to depression are complex and can be the result of multiple causes, including things out of our control, like genetics, brain chemistry, hormones, trauma, and more.

Teenagers as a whole face a number of challenges that may contribute to — or be a risk factor for — depression.

These may include:

  • bullying
  • social media
  • academic pressure
  • trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse
  • challenges with self-esteem
  • early puberty
  • substance use
  • other mental health conditions
  • having a medical condition
  • being LGBTQ and not experiencing adequate support


A teen’s identity development is largely influenced by their peers, and building healthy friendships and romantic relationships. For teenagers honing their social skills — often around hundreds of other children — bullying can be a part of everyday reality.

Approximately 20% of students between the ages of 12 to 18 report bullying. While the majority of peer bullying involves rumors, other common issues include ridicule, physical aggression, and destruction of property.

Being bullied has been linked to an increased chance of depression in numerous studies, and research suggests adolescent bullying can alter brain development.

Social media

Social media can be a positive thing. Most teens use social media to communicate, and it helps bring people together, share aspects of themselves, and stay in touch with family and friends.

Unfortunately, for teenagers, social media can also have a negative influence, causing sleep disruptions, cyberbullying, peer pressure, unrealistic expectations, and more.

Not only does social media constantly link teens to one another, but many teens report feeling addicted to social media, obsessively checking sites and ruminating.

One study explored the impact of teen social media use and found that those who used social media both more overall and at night had higher levels of depression and poorer sleep.

Academic pressure

Pressures to perform well in school come from a number of areas. Many teens may also experience pressure related to playing sports or other extracurricular activities.

Students feeling academic stress may be at 2.4 times higher risk of experiencing depression compared to those who don’t feel academic stress.


High rates of teens experience trauma, which comes in many forms, such as neglect, and physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. “Studies show that about 15% to 43% of girls and 14% to 43% of boys go through at least one trauma.”

The mental health consequences of trauma can develop no matter the type, severity, or frequency of the abuse or trauma. For example, current research suggests that emotional abuse is strongly associated with depression.

A number of factors contribute to depression in teenagers, so pinpointing school as the root of teenage depression is not a fair statement.

Yes, school does facilitate many of the scenarios that might contribute to symptoms of depression, but teens also experience notable stress outside of school.

Stress is not the same as depression, however. You may experience stress and never experience depression.

Other factors that can contribute to a teenager experiencing depression may include, but aren’t limited, to:

  • genetics
  • brain chemistry
  • hormones
  • trauma
  • racial discrimination

The COVID-19 pandemic is another possible factor that continues to impact the mental health of teens today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 6 high school students reported making a suicide plan in 2019, an increase of 44% since 2009.

Due to pandemic-related protocols, teens have faced immense unpredictability in their day-to-day lives, such as changes in:

  • social interactions with peers
  • virtual and in-person learning environments
  • time spent with family
  • ability to participate in extracurricular activities, such as sports and school events

Both adults and teens can experience depression.

While the diagnosis may be the same, the signs and symptoms of depression in teens aren’t exactly the same as those in adults.

Teens experiencing depression may show symptoms of:

  • sadness
  • irritability
  • frequent crying
  • lack of enjoyment in hobbies
  • withdrawal from friends or family
  • sleeping more or less than normal
  • feeling tired or having less energy
  • expressing feelings of blame or guilt
  • extreme sensitivity
  • difficulty concentrating
  • decline in school performance
  • poor self-esteem
  • self-harming behaviors
  • persistent boredom
  • increase in sedentary habits
  • suicidal thoughts or actions

Suicide prevention

Sometimes, teens who experience depression also experience thoughts of suicide or self-harm. If you recognize suicidal behaviors in a teen, it’s important to offer them a safe space to feel heard and validated. To help someone who may be considering self-harm or suicide:

  • stay with them and seek professional help right away
  • call 911 or go straight to your nearest emergency room
  • remove objects from their reach that could be used to harm themselves, such as pills, weapons, or sharp objects

Help is always available. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255. You can also visit your nearest emergency room to speak with a mental health professional.

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Depression in teens is highly treatable. Research suggests that with therapy, approximately two-thirds of teens can see long-term improvements.

Common therapy methods include:

  • talk therapy: Provides an opportunity for teenagers to discuss their experiences, as well as concerns and stressors that may contribute to depression. Teens can also learn new ways to manage and cope with what they’re experiencing.
  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This is more structured and targeted than talk therapy. CBT aims to restructure and identify negative thoughts and behaviors.
  • interpersonal therapy: Helps teens learn to manage depressive symptoms by improving interpersonal skills.


Antidepressants are common treatment options and may be combined with therapy to aid in decreasing symptoms of depression. Medications can make a significant difference in the quality of life for a teen living with depression.

A mental health professional, primary care physician, or psychiatrist can help determine if medication might be a helpful option, and work with you to identify the best approach to treatment.

If you’re a teen and you believe you’re experiencing depression, it’s important to reach out to a trusted adult for support during this time.

Depression affects teens — like it does adults — for a number of reasons, including genetics, brain chemistry, trauma, social and academic stress, challenges with self-esteem, and much more.

Depression in teens is treatable with guidance and support from a mental healthcare professional. You can also try online therapy if that’s a better fit for you.