How to Tell if Your Teen is Depressed or Suicidal

It isn’t always easy to tell when a teen is struggling with depression or just normal teenage growing pains. Teenagers face many pressures (social, academic, family) and are often in the midst of figuring out who they are and where they fit in. When teens begin to struggle with clinical depression, it impacts every aspect of their lives, and goes well beyond “moodiness”. The good news: depression in teens is treatable, and parents can learn to identify when help is needed.

Here are some signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Sadness or hopelessness
  • Irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Tearfulness or frequent crying
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Poor school performance
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

When trying to figure out if your teen is just “being a teenager” or whether they are depressed, consider how long the symptoms have been going on, how severe they are, and how different your child is acting from his or her usual self.

Teens struggling with serious depression often think about or talk about suicide.  These thoughts should always be taken very seriously, as increasing numbers of teenage suicide attempts are successful.

Suicide warning signs to watch for include:

  • Talking or joking about committing suicide
  • Saying things like: “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.”
  • Speaking positively about death or romanticizing dying (“If I died, people might love me more or finally pay attention.”)
  • Writing stories and poems about death, dying, or suicide
  • Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family as if for the last time
  • Seeking out weapons, pills, or other ways to kill themselves

If you suspect that your teen may be suicidal, take immediate action.  For 24-hour suicide prevention and support, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.

For more information about teen depression and suicide, visit the following resources:

Parent’s Guide to Teen Depression

Suicide Prevention