Signs, Symptoms, and Tools for Helping Yourself or a Friend

The teenage years can be really tough and it’s perfectly normal to feel sad or irritable every now and then. But if these feelings don’t go away or become so intense that you feel overwhelmingly hopeless and helpless, you may be suffering from depression. The good news is that you don’t have to feel this way. Help is available—and you have more power over your mood than you may think. No matter how despondent life seems right now, there are many things you can do to change your mood and start feeling better today.

What is teen depression?

Teen depression is much more than feeling temporarily sad or down in the dumps. It’s a serious and debilitating mood disorder that can change the way you think, feel, and function in your daily life, causing problems at home, school, and in your social life. When you’re depressed, you may feel hopeless and isolated and it can seem like no one understands. But depression is far more common in teens than you may think. The increased academic pressures, social challenges, and hormonal changes of the teenage years mean that about one in five of us suffer with depression in our teens. You’re not alone and your depression is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw.

Even though it can feel like the black cloud of depression will never lift, there are plenty of things you can do to help yourself deal with symptoms, regain your balance and feel more positive, energetic, and hopeful again.

Signs and symptoms of teen depression

It can be hard to put into words exactly how depression feels—and we don’t all experience it the same way. For some teens, depression is characterized by feelings of bleakness and despair. For others, it’s a persistent anger or agitation, or simply an overwhelming sense of “emptiness.” However depression affects you, though, there are some common symptoms that you may experience:

-You constantly feel irritable, sad, or angry.
-Nothing seems fun anymore—even the activities you used to love—and you just don’t see the point of forcing yourself to do them.
-You feel bad about yourself—worthless, guilty, or just “wrong” in some way.
-You sleep too much or not enough.
-You’ve turned to alcohol or drugs to try to change the way you feel.
-You have frequent, unexplained headaches or other physical pains or problems.
-Anything and everything makes you cry.
-You’re extremely sensitive to criticism.
-You’ve gained or lost weight without consciously trying to.
-You’re having trouble concentrating, thinking straight, or remembering things. Your grades may be plummeting because of it.
-You feel helpless and hopeless.
-You’re thinking about death or suicide. (If so, talk to someone right away!)

Coping with suicidal thoughts

If your negative feelings caused by depression become so overwhelming that you can’t see any solution besides harming yourself or others, you need to get help right away. Asking for help when you’re in the midst of such strong emotions can be really difficult, but it’s vital you reach out to someone you trust—a friend, family member, or teacher, for example. If you don’t feel that you have anyone to talk to, or think that talking to a stranger might be easier, call a suicide helpline. You’ll be able to speak in confidence to someone who understands what you’re going through and can help you deal with your feelings.

Whatever your situation, it takes real courage to face death and step back from the brink. You can use that courage to help you keep going and overcome depression.

There is ALWAYS another solution, even if you can’t see it right now. Many people who have survived a suicide attempt say that they did it because they mistakenly felt there was no other solution to a problem they were experiencing. At the time, they couldn’t see another way out, but in truth, they didn’t really want to die. Remember that no matter how badly you feel, these emotions will pass.

Having thoughts of hurting yourself or others does not make you a bad person. Depression can make you think and feel things that are out of character. No one should judge you or condemn you for these feelings if you are brave enough to talk about them.

If your feelings are uncontrollable, tell yourself to wait 24 hours before you take any action. This can give you time to really think things through and give yourself some distance from the strong emotions that are plaguing you. During this 24-hour period, try to talk to someone—anyone—as long as they are not another suicidal or depressed person. Call a hotline or talk to a friend. What do you have to lose?

If you’re afraid you can’t control yourself, make sure you are never alone. Even if you can’t verbalize your feelings, just stay in public places, hang out with friends or family members, or go to a movie—anything to keep from being by yourself and in danger.