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Depressive Disorder in Adolescents

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is a depressive disorder?

A depressive disorder is a medical condition that causes feelings of sadness or hopelessness that do not go away. These feelings last longer than usual. It is more than feeling down in the dumps. Depressive disorders cause you to lose interest in things and sometimes the people you used to enjoy. These feelings interfere with your daily life. A depressive disorder can be treated.

What are the signs and symptoms of a depressive disorder?

  • Appetite changes, or weight gain or loss
  • Trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
  • Waking up earlier than usual and not being able to go back to sleep
  • Lack of energy, motivation, or interest in enjoyable activities
  • Feeling restless, irritable, or withdrawn
  • Feeling worthless, hopeless, discouraged, or guilty
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering things, doing daily tasks, or making decisions
  • Thoughts of self-harm, suicide, or your own death

What causes or increases my risk for a depressive disorder?

A depressive disorder may be caused by changes in brain chemicals that affect your mood. Your risk for a depressive disorder may be higher with any of the following:

  • Stressful events such as the death of a loved one, abuse, parents' divorce, or loss of a friendship
  • Parents, siblings, or other family members with a history of depression
  • An anxiety disorder, ADHD, or a learning disability
  • Low self-esteem or poor relationships with others
  • Being bullied
  • Drug or alcohol abuse

How is a depressive disorder diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and how long you have had them. He or she will ask if you have any family members with depression. Tell your healthcare provider about any stressful events in your life. He or she may ask about any other health conditions or medicines you take. Your healthcare provider may ask how your symptoms are affecting your relationships at home, school, and work.

How is a depressive disorder treated?

A depressive disorder can be treated. Treatment can help you feel better.

  • Mental health therapies may be needed. Your healthcare provider may recommend:
    • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you create more realistic, appropriate thoughts about yourself and your behaviors. You may work individually with a mental health provider. CBT may also be done with a group of adolescents that have a depressive disorder. CBT may be combined with medicines that help treat your depressive disorder.
    • Interpersonal therapy (IPT) helps you connect to other people by understanding their feelings and views. IPT also helps you communicate better with friends and family members.
  • Antidepressant medicine may be given to improve or balance your mood. You may need to take this medicine for several weeks before you begin to feel better. Tell your healthcare provider about any side effects or problems you have with your medicine. The type or amount of medicine may need to be changed.

What else can I do?

Do not wait for your feelings to go away. Help is available.

  • Talk to your parent or an adult. If you feel like you cannot talk to your parents, talk to a school nurse or counselor. Tell someone about your feelings and thoughts. Tell him or her if you feel like you might harm yourself. Tell him or her if you are being bullied by someone.
  • Talk with your friends. Your friends can listen and understand how you feel. Your friends can support you.
  • Contact a crisis hotline. Call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Text "GO" to 741741 if you do not feel comfortable talking to someone you know. There are many crisis hotlines with someone available to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Find the number for a hotline in your area and keep it with you at all times.

What can I do to help improve my mood?

  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Do physical activity every day, such as walking or running.
  • Get out in the daylight.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Focus on positive things, even the small things.
  • Keep a journal.
  • Use music or art to be creative.
  • Hang out with positive people.
  • Do not use alcohol or drugs.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You feel like you could harm yourself or someone else.

When should I or someone close to me call my therapist or doctor?

  • Your symptoms do not improve.
  • You cannot make it to your next appointment.
  • You have new symptoms.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.