7 Signs Your Teen Might Be Depressed: A Mental Health Expert’s Advice On What To Watch For

We spoke with a mental health expert about the biggest red flags.

Kristin Wilson, MA, LPC, CCTP, Vice President of Clinical Outreach for Newport Healthcare

Nearly one-third of Wisconsin high school students report feeling sad or hopeless almost every day, according to the Wisconsin Office of Children’s Mental Health. One in six have seriously considered suicide. And 60 percent of Wisconsin teens with major depression do not receive consistent treatment.

“This pandemic is wreaking havoc on mental health,” says Kristin Wilson, MA, LPC, CCTP, Vice President of Clinical Outreach for Newport Healthcare, which provides mental health treatment for teens and young adults at locations nationwide. “So many teenagers are struggling socially.”

Family Therapy Can Help

When working with families who worry their teen might be depressed, “I always tell parents that they know their child the best and should trust their gut,” says Wilson. “If you’re feeling like something is off, something’s probably off, and you should consider working with a professional.”

Newport Healthcare recently opened a new outpatient program in Milwaukee (844-410-2070) to address the ongoing mental health crisis among young people. Newport treats clients between ages 12 and 27, using a clinical model of care that focuses on healing the underlying causes of mental health issues.

Newport is the only treatment program to use Attachment-Based Family Therapy as the foundation of its approach, with the goal of repairing parent-child attachment ruptures so young people have a strong emotional support system.

We asked Wilson to share some of the common warning signs that a teenager may be depressed.

7 Signs A Teen Might Be Depressed

1. Changes in Appetite

Loss of appetite is a common sign of depression, but Wilson also points out that a sudden craving for sugary foods is another red flag. “These foods can be a way to self-soothe,” she says.

2. Avoiding Social Situations

Keep an eye on how much time your teen is spending with their friends. If the balance is shifting further and further toward social withdrawal and isolation, that could be a sign of trouble.

3. Shame and Severe Self-Criticism

“Depression might sound like a teen saying, ‘I’m stupid, I’m a failure. I’m no good,’” Wilson says. “They really internalize this idea of not being good enough, or that something’s wrong with them.”

4. Loss of Interest in Things They Once Enjoyed

Spending less time with old hobbies could be a perfectly normal sign of growth in a teenager — the red flag is when they don’t replace that activity with something new that brings them joy.

5. Moodiness

Frequent feelings of sadness, helplessness, and hopelessness can all be signs of depression. “Be aware of how often and how intensely your teen is feeling these types of emotions,” Wilson says.

6. Forgetfulness or Trouble Concentrating

“If you have a child who typically is focused, attentive, and good with time management, and all of sudden this becomes something they’re struggling with, that could be a red flag,” Wilson says. This can sometimes manifest as slipping grades at school.

7. Shifting Sleep Patterns

A teen might be tired all the time and falling asleep in the middle of the day — or they can’t fall asleep at night or have trouble staying asleep. “It’s really about noticing differences in your teen’s patterns of behavior,” Wilson says.

A Path from Depression to ‘Sustainable Healing’

Newport’s Milwaukee outpatient program treats teens struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma, and other mental health and co-occurring disorders. The program, which is in-network with most major insurance providers, offers a variety of outpatient options, from a few hours a day to full days, five days a week, depending on the needs of the client and family.

Newport has a robust academic program and works directly with schools to ensure that teens continue to progress in their education while receiving the treatment they need.

“We believe in sustainable healing,” Wilson says. “We bring youth from self-destruction to self-esteem.”