While you often hear about a rising prevalence in teen mental health disorders, it can be difficult to understand what that truly means. Media stories occasionally use scare tactics to make the problem sound new, intense, and overwhelming. Scientific studies can sometimes seem dense and difficult to read, offering little information for the general public to use in understanding the problem more fully. 

The first step towards solving any problem is to have an understanding. Call this a quick, by the numbers, outlook on teen depression. This countdown, from five to one, can serve as a quick guide to the basics of teen depression. 

Five (5) Potential Causes: 

Depression is an incredibly complex condition that seems to involve a number of factors. Current research suggests that depression is most likely caused by a complex interaction between multiple systems. As Mayo Clinic outlines, these are five factors that come into play: 

1.    Biological chemistry

Your brain communicates by sending messages between nerve cells (or neurons). These chemical messages are called neurotransmitters. Sometimes, these neurotransmitters don’t function properly and this disruption in the signal may lead to depression. 

2.    Hormones  

Hormones, like neurotransmitters, are also chemical messengers in the body. However, glands, rather than neurons, produce hormones. Hormones are responsible for many major bodily functions, including playing a role in mood regulation and emotion. Having a hormonal imbalance may lead to depression symptoms.  

3.    Heredity

Genetics alone don’t seem to be enough to explain depression, but researchers are beginning to find more information that certain genes may play a role in whether or not someone is vulnerable to developing depression (you can find more information about these genetic studies from Dr. Meaney). This means that when two people are presented with the same life situation, one person may have a greater likelihood of developing depression based on what is called genetic predisposition. 

4.    Trauma

Trauma at any age can serve as a spark for depression, research has indicated that particularly trauma in childhood may fundamentally change the way that the body functions, particularly the central nervous system which is made up of the brain and the spinal cord. Dr. Christine Heim has been working on research to the role of early life stress in the development of depression. 

5.    Learned negative thought patterns

Thought patterns are learned ways that you respond to a situation. For example, if you recently had a fight with a friend, you may have thoughts such as “Nobody likes me” or “Now I’ll never have any friends.” With depression, these thought patterns could become learned responses to situations. Unfortunately, negative or depressive thoughts often feed into more depressive thoughts until it becomes difficult to dig yourself out of the thought patterns. 

Four (4) Common Symptoms: 

  1. Problems with sleep and/or energy level 
  2. Changes in appetite 
  3. No longer enjoying activities (anhedonia) 
  4. Low self-esteem 

Three (3) Treatment Options: 

In order to properly treat depression, it is important to seek professional help. Talking to a trained professional about your individual circumstances can help lead to finding a treatment plan that is right for you. In general, there are three bodies of treatment: 


♣    Therapy can be very useful in treating depression. The underlying principle of therapy is to modify negative/recurring thoughts and behaviors in order to help treat mental illness. 


♣    There are a variety of medications that may be suitable for depression. A qualified care provider such as a psychiatrist, or a general practitioner performs medication management. 


♣    Practicing self-care looks different for everyone. Some examples of activities that one may practice for self-care include: exercise, getting together with friends, healthy eating, and listening to music. Self-care is an excellent tool to manage depression, and mental health in general. However, self-care alone should not be relied on as treatment for depression. 

Two (2) Different Things… 

Depression and feeling sad are two similar, but different things. It’s normal to feel sad every once and awhile, especially for teens! Sometimes you even go through periods of time where you feel sad, angry, or just plain moody for a few days. This is completely normal. However, when these feelings last for weeks or even months at a time, it’s important to seek help as you may be suffering from depression. 

One (1) Important Thing to Remember  

Depression is treatable! Seeking help, and finding the right combination of therapy, medication, self-care, and support that work for you can help to manage depression. It is always okay to ask for help and there is always someone to turn to for this help.