What are the signs of depression in teens?

An image of Harriet and Danielle
Specialist Nurse Advisers – Mental Health, Bupa
25 April 2024
Next review due April 2027

Unfortunately, depression in teenagers has become quite common. It can sometimes look different to adult depression, so it’s important to know what to watch out for. Here, I’ll explain what the signs of depression in teens are, and what treatment options are available.

teen day dreaming in bed

What is depression in teens?

Depression is a common mental health condition that can affect both adults and young people. Around one third of young people aged 16 to 24 currently have a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression.

And since 2019, there has been a 50 per cent increase in mental health referrals for teenagers with depression in the UK.

What causes depression in teens?

There’s not always an obvious cause for depression in teenagers. And often there might be more than one cause. But there are some factors that might make it more likely. These include:

  • going through a big life change, such as a house move or bereavement
  • using alcohol or drugs
  • having an unstable home life
  • experiencing or witnessing violence or traumatic events
  • physical health problems
  • genetic factors – such as a parent with the condition

Teenagers are often going through many different changes, such as preparing for exams, going to college, or university. These life changes can involve stress and pressure and teenagers can struggle to adapt to the new demands they face.

They might struggle to make new friends, or they might encounter alcohol and drugs for the first time. These factors can worsen existing mental health issues, or lead to new problems for some.

Does social media use cause depression in teenagers?

There are mixed opinions about the role social media use may have in teen depression. Some experts believe a lot of screen use may lead to poor self esteem and low mood as teens may compare themselves to others. There are also concerns around screen use and poor sleep – as sleeping badly can affect our mood.

Other experts think the evidence around social media and teen mental health is inconsistent. They also suggest that social media can help lonely teens to connect to others. More evidence is needed to reach a strong conclusion. But, limiting screen time, and considering the type of content being consumed may be helpful.

What are the symptoms of depression in teens?

It’s important to remember that mood changes are a normal part of teenage life. But, when these are frequent, or extreme, they might suggest something else is going on.

With depression, your teenager might:

  • have trouble falling asleep
  • wake frequently
  • no longer enjoy things they used to
  • become socially withdrawn
  • be irritable or annoyed around others
  • be continually low in mood
  • cry often
  • misuse alcohol or drugs
  • struggle with concentration and behaviour at school
  • overuse smartphones
  • overeat or under eat

Some teenagers with depression may not want to go to school at all, and others will appear happier than they actually are – this is called ‘masking’.

It might be difficult for parents and caregivers to decide if these symptoms are just a normal part of teen life, or something more serious, like depression. With depression, the symptoms are usually persistent and will last for a couple of weeks or more.

Depression is also sometimes linked to other conditions. Issues in teenagers that may be linked to depression include:

  • self-harm
  • eating disorders
  • anxiety or panic attacks
  • being bullied
  • neurodiversity such as ADHD

How is depression in teens diagnosed?

For a diagnosis of depression in teens, a doctor or mental health professional will usually ask about how they are feeling, and for how long they’ve had symptoms of depression.

They will often also use a symptom questionnaire. This will help to show how often your teen is having depressive symptoms, and how severe they might be. They might also be screened for anxiety at the same time, using a similar questionnaire.

How can you treat depression in teens?

Luckily, depression is a treatable condition. It’s usually treated by talking therapies, and/or specific medications. Often a combination of both is recommended. But, for others, talking therapies alone can make a big difference.

Talking therapies for teenagers with depression include:

  • counselling
  • cognitive behavioural therapy

Some medications used to treat depression in adults may be unsuitable for teenagers. This is because of the possible effects the medication can have their developing brain. So, a doctor will help to select the most appropriate option for their age and health.

It’s also useful to focus on creating a healthy lifestyle. This would include regular exercise, good sleep, and a balanced diet. These changes have been shown to reduce the risk of low mood. Moderating alcohol use may also have a positive impact. Replacing excessive screen time with more face-to-face contact may help some teenagers.

How can I talk to teenagers about depression?

It’s important to be sensitive about your teen’s feelings. Try to avoid direct and constant questioning which may make them feel attacked. But it can help to explain your concerns about their mood, and to let them you know you’re there if they want to chat.

Sometimes, it can be easier to have these conversations via instant messaging or phone if this is more manageable for your teen. You can also refer them to see a doctor or speak to someone else if they would feel more comfortable (such as a family friend).

Going to the doctors about depression can be daunting, so you could offer to go with your teen. It might help to prepare a list of questions to ask the doctor such as:

  • what treatment options are available to them
  • whether they will be referred to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services)
  • how long waiting lists are
  • whether they would recommend medication or not
  • if they can recommend any local support groups or services

Support and resources for teenagers with depression

While a GP is a good place to start, there are many sources of support and information for both you and your teenager. Here are a few useful resources.

Local Minds is a mental health service that offers localised support across England and Wales. They can provide talking therapies and other services for young people.

The Mix is a UK charity that provides support to young people aged under 25, including a crisis text line and a webchat forum. They also provide counselling online.

Frank is a national anti-drugs service, where teenagers can get free, confidential support and advice around drug use here.

If your teenager is feeling very overwhelmed, then the Samaritans offer 24/7 support via text and phone. If they are feeling suicidal then call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

Looking for more support? Our Family Mental HealthLine connects you with mental health nurses for advice and guidance about your child's mental wellbeing.

An image of Harriet and Danielle
Harriet Finlayson and Danielle Panton
Specialist Nurse Advisers – Mental Health, Bupa



Julia Ebbens, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

    • Facts and figures about young people and mental health. Mind UK., accessed 15 April 2024
    • Rice F, Riglin L, Lomax T, et al. Adolescent and adult differences in major depression symptom profiles. J Affect Disord. 2019 ;243:175-181. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.09.015
    • Big increase in urgent referrals of children to mental health services. British association for counselling and psychotherapy., published August 2023
    • Depression in children and young people. Royal college of psychiatrists., last reviewed August 2022
    • Plackett R, Sheringham J, Dykxhoorn J. The Longitudinal Impact of Social Media Use on UK Adolescents' Mental Health: Longitudinal Observational Study. J Med Internet Res. 2023;25:e43213. doi: 10.2196/43213
    • Qiu J, Morales-Muñoz I. Associations between Sleep and Mental Health in Adolescents: Results from the UK Millennium Cohort Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(3):1868. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19031868
    • The impact of social media use on young people’s mental health. NIHR school for public health research,, April 2023
    • Teen depression. Relate., accessed 15 April 2024
    • Depression signs and symptoms. Young Minds., accessed 15 April 2024
    • Young people who self harm – a guide for schools. Royal college of psychiatrists,, accessed 15 April 2024
    • Eating disorders: recognition and treatment. NICE., last updated May 2020
    • Bullying. Royal Manchester Childrens Hospital., accessed 15 April 2024
    • ADHD and mental health. Mind UK., accessed 15 April 2024
    • Patient health questionnaire. Patient., accessed 15 April 2024
    • Depression diagnosis. Mental health UK., accessed 15 April 2024
    • Treatments for depression. Mind UK., accessed 15 April 2024
    • Antidepressants for children and teenagers: what works? NIHR school for public health research., last reviewed November 2022
    • Self care for depression. Mind UK., accessed 15 April 2024
    • Selvaraj R, Selvamani TY, Zahra A, et al. Association Between Dietary Habits and Depression: A Systematic Review. Cureus. 2022;14(12):e32359. doi: 10.7759/cureus.32359
    • Li, J., Zhou, X., Huang, Z. et al. Effect of exercise intervention on depression in children and adolescents: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. BMC Public Health .2023;1918..
    • Drugs and alcohol – support for young people. Young minds., accessed 15 April 2024
    • How to talk to young people about mental health. Young minds.,uk, accessed 15 April 2024
    • Guide to CAMHS. Young minds., accessed 15 April 2024
    • 60 % of young people unable to cope due to pressure to succeed. Mental health foundation.,uk, accessed 15 April 2024
    • Facts and figures about young people and mental health. Mind UK., accessed 23 April 2024

About our health information

At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. This is because we believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and wellbeing.

Our information has been awarded the PIF TICK for trustworthy health information. It also follows the principles of the The Information Standard.

The Patient Information Forum tick

Learn more about our editorial team and principles >

Content is loading