Causes & Effects of Adolescent Depression

Understanding Adolescent Depression

Learn about adolescent depression

While it is widely known that adults suffer from depression, adolescents can also find themselves struggling with the emotional lows that are cornerstone to this mental health condition. When a young person is experiencing symptoms of depression, he or she will likely experience a deterioration in functioning that can cause negative effects in several areas of his or her life. If that same youth is abusing substances or engaging in compulsive gambling at the same time as battling depression, the resulting effects can be even more devastating.

Suffering from untreated depression can result in the onset of self-harming behaviors, ideations of suicide, and even attempts at taking one’s own life. Additionally, a young person’s ability to perform well in school, relate to peers in healthy manners, regulate emotions, abstain from risk-taking or dangerous behaviors, and refrain from the abuse of substances can all be hindered by the presence of this mental illness. Those closest to a youth struggling with depression can intervene and seek out the care their child needs to manage his or her depression symptoms so that this mental illness, as well as any other existing mental health disorder, can be treated in the most effective and efficient way possible.


Statistics for adolescent depression

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published reports that estimate the prevalence of depression among adolescents to be around 13 percent. Of that percentage, approximately half of male and female adolescents who meet diagnostic criteria for a depressive disorder receive the appropriate treatment needed to manage their illnesses.

With specific regards to treatment for depression, adolescents who grapple with depression symptoms and substance abuse at the same time are less likely to respond to treatment that only cares for depressive disorders. For this reason, mental health professionals recommend that parents and caregivers be cognizant of their child’s needs in order to determine the most appropriate treatment option.

Causes & Risks

Causes & risk factors of adolescent depression

Researchers have yet to isolate a single identifiable cause that explains why depression manifests in some adolescents, but not in others. However, mental health professionals agree that there are certain causes and risk factors that can lead a young person to suffer from a depressive disorder. Consider the following:

Genetic: A substantial amount of research supports the notion that depression is a heritable mental illness. If an individual has a first-degree relative who suffers from this mental illness, there is a greater risk that that person will also come to suffer from symptoms synonymous with a depressive disorder.

Environmental: Much like a person’s genetics can increase an individual’s vulnerability to experiencing certain mental illnesses, the environment in which one spends most of his or her time, along with certain experiences, can impact the onset of a mental health condition, such as depression. If a youth is exposed to trauma and/or chronic stress, is bullied by peers, or experiences negative interactions with his or her caregivers, the likelihood of depression being a factor in a youth’s life increases exponentially.

Risk Factors:

  • Personal history of trauma
  • Personal history of being bullied by peers
  • Having low-self esteem
  • Family history of depression or other mental health condition
  • Personal history of other mental illness
  • Family or personal history of substance abuse or addiction
  • Experiencing abrupt life changes
  • Being female
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Exposure to chronic stress

Signs and Symptoms

Signs & symptoms of adolescent depression

Parents and caregivers can become educated on the signs and symptoms of depression as they manifest in their adolescent. The following are among the more common indicators that a youth is suffering from the symptoms of depression:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Tearfulness or crying
  • Poor academic performance
  • Demonstrating aggressive behaviors
  • Isolation from peers or loved ones
  • Missing school
  • Ongoing tardiness
  • Declined participation in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Lethargy

Physical symptoms:

  • Self-injury wounds
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Stomachaches
  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Digestion difficulties
  • Aches and pains

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor concentration
  • Problems forming memories
  • Hindered ability to make good decisions
  • Delayed thinking

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Feeling as if one is helplessness or hopeless
  • Damaged self-esteem
  • Guilty feelings
  • Feeling worthless
  • Increased irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Unwarranted emotional outbursts
  • Dismal attitude


Effects of adolescent depression

Failing to help an adolescent get treatment for depression can elicit a number of harmful consequences. Even more damaging are the effects that can occur when a youth is suffering from untreated depression and a substance use disorder and/or gambling disorder. The listed effects are those that can result when a young person continues to suffer from these conditions without receiving treatment:

  • Demise of relationships with peers
  • Conflict with loved ones
  • Absences from school or impaired academic functioning, which could result in academic failure
  • Disciplinary action at school as a result of behavioral disturbances
  • Expulsion from school due to frequent disciplinary action
  • Development of another mental health disorder
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Changes in weight
  • Somatic symptoms of pain
  • Substance abuse, which could lead to addiction
  • Onset of self-harming behaviors
  • Onset of ideations of suicide
  • Attempts at suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Adolescent depression and co-occurring disorders

Young people who suffer from depression often meet diagnostic criteria for other mental health conditions. In many instances, youth grappling with the emotional lows associated with depression often turn to substances or other addictive behaviors, such as gambling, in order to cope with their turmoil. When this is the case, they may also be diagnosed with a substance use disorder or gambling disorder in addition to a depressive disorder in the event treatment is sought. Aside from those diagnoses, the following mental illnesses may also affect an adolescent who is battling depression:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia nervosa

When I came to Keystone, my depression had me at an all time low. But they helped me dig my way out of the hole I felt my life had become. Now I keep my mental health while living the kind of life I wanted.

– Anonymous Patient

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