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Warning Signs of Depression in Teenagers

March 7, 2013

What are the warning signs of depression in teenagers?

Teens with depression are likely to not get better on their own without support. The depression may become worse or may lead to other problems if left unmanaged.

Suicidal thoughts

One of the most serious warning signs of depression in teenagers is suicidal thoughts.

Suicidal thoughts or thoughts of violence may be heard or seen to be expressed by the teenager with depression symptoms. These suicidal thoughts include the teenager (per the Mayo Clinic):

  • talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”
  • getting the means to commit suicide, such as getting a knife, buying a gun or stockpiling pills
  • withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next
  • being preoccupied with death, dying or violence
  • feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly
  • giving away belongings or getting affairs in order when there is no other logical explanation for why this is being done
  • saying goodbye to people as if they won’t be seen again
  • developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated.

What to do when a teenager expresses suicidal thoughts?

If a teenager expresses suicidal thoughts as one of the warning signs of depression, find out whether the teenager is in danger of acting on suicidal feelings.

The Majo Clinic encourages parents, carers, and friends to ask direct questions as the offer of an opportunity to talk may reduce the risk of the teenager acting on suicidal thoughts.

Questions to ask include:

  • How are you coping with what’s been happening in your life?
  • Do you ever feel like just giving up?
  • Are you thinking about dying?
  • Are you thinking about hurting yourself?
  • Are you thinking about suicide?
  • Have you thought about how you would do it?
  • Do you know when you would do it?
  • Do you have the means to do it?

The offer of an opportunity to talk may reduce the risk of the teenager acting on suicidal thoughts.

What to do when a teenager acts on suicidal thoughts?

  • If a suicide attempt appears to have been made, get emergency help immediately.
  • Do not leave the teen alone.
  • if it can be done safely, take the teen to the nearest hospital emergency department.
  • try to find out if the teen has consumed alcohol or drugs or may have overdosed on any prescription medicine or any other type of poison.
  • Tell a family member or friend right away about what is happening.

Resource recommendations

Teen Depression Guide: Click on the links below for further sections of this Teen Depression Guide.