Why Are Teens So Depressed? 16 Factors That Can Lead to Depression
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Teen depression is a real issue that affects millions of teens each year in the United States. In fact, an estimated 3.8 million teens between 12 and 17 experience at least one major depressive episode a year. The teen years are supposed to be fun and exciting. What is going on to cause so many teens to struggle with depression? Being a teenager can be tough, and adults can forget what it was like when they were teens. Adults don’t have to deal with the same stresses as teens, but the stress can add up. These stresses can also affect girls and boys differently. There’s good news, though: Depression can be a treatable condition with the help of a mental health professional. They can work with teens to help them find the best way to manage their symptoms and reclaim their mental well-being. 

Factors that can trigger or worsen depression in teens

There isn’t just one reason why someone might feel depressed. It can be a mix of things. School can often take the blame. However, while school can be stressful, there is a difference between being stressed and being depressed. A teen can be incredibly stressed but not struggle with depression. Some common factors behind teenage depression development or worsening can include:

  • Life’s challenges — Depression can be triggered by big changes or stressful situations, such as moving, family problems like divorce or job loss, or the death of a loved one, including a pet.
  • Lack of sleepBad sleep habits can be a symptom of depression, but they can also make depression worse. When a teen doesn’t get enough sleep, it can make their mood worse. A bad mood can make it harder for them to cope with the challenges of depression. 
  • Self-esteem challenges — Teens can struggle with feeling bad about themselves, from body image concerns to negative social experiences or academic struggles. These can make it harder for them to cope with challenges and lead to depression. 
  • Social issues — Feeling like you don’t fit in, being bullied in person or online, or struggling with your identity can all be major contributors to depression. Studies show that nearly 20% of teens report being bullied. Questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity is a big step but also can leave nearly 69% of LGBTQ+ youth struggling with feeling persistently sad or hopeless. As of 2022, approximately 45% of LGBTQ+ teens experienced serious thoughts of taking their lives.
  • Academic pressure — Wanting to do well in school is great. However, being overwhelmed by grades, standardized tests, college applications and other extracurriculars can leave teens struggling with stress and depression. 
  • Trauma — It’s an unfortunate fact, but many teens experience trauma, or adverse childhood experiences, such as physical or emotional abuse. About two-thirds of teens will report their experience of a traumatic event by the time they reach age 16. Trauma can have a lasting impact on mental health. 

There are also biological and developmental factors outside of a teen’s control that can contribute to depression:

  • Hormones — Puberty is a time of big changes in teens. Hormone fluctuations can wreak havoc on emotions in teen boys and girls. During puberty, the brain actually goes through a rewiring process
  • Brain chemistry — The brain uses chemicals called neurotransmitters to send messages. If the brain has an imbalance in these chemicals, it can contribute to the development of depression. 
  • Genetics — If there is a family history of struggling with depression, there can be an increased risk of experiencing it too. It’s not a guaranteed factor, though.
  • Early puberty — If a teen starts puberty before their peers, they may feel isolated, which can contribute to depression. This can be especially true if the teen is being bullied or teased for physical changes. 

The world today also presents some unique challenges for teens:

  • Social media — While social media can be a great way for teens to connect with their friends, it can also lead to them developing unhealthy comparisons and feelings of inadequacy. Late-night scrolling can also cut into valuable sleep time, which can also affect their mood. 
  • Substance use — Using drugs or alcohol to help numb the pain can actually make depression worse, even if it feels like it’s helping in the moment. These substances can disrupt a teen’s brain chemistry, making it harder for them to manage their emotions and making symptoms of depression worse.
  • Other mental health conditions — Depression can co-occur with other mental health conditions like anxiety, ADHD or eating disorders. 
  • Medical condition — Chronic health issues can take a toll on teens’ mental health and contribute to the development of depression. 
  • Racial discrimination — Feeling like you don’t belong or that you’re being treated differently because of your race or ethnicity can be incredibly stressful and isolating. It can lead to the development of depression. 
  • COVID-19 — The COVID-19 pandemic caused a lot of disruption and uncertainty in teens’ lives. The pandemic has had a significant toll on many teens’ mental health, and the repercussions are still being discovered.

This list isn’t exhaustive, and people can experience depression differently. The important thing for teens to remember is that they’re not alone and there is help available

Teen depression can feel overwhelming; Lightfully Teen can help

At Lightfully Teen, we understand the many factors that can contribute to depression in teens. That’s why we’re dedicated to providing whole-person-centered care through a unique treatment approach called process-based therapy (PBT). It allows for compassionate and fully personalized treatment plans. Using the most effective components of evidence-based treatments, our licensed clinical experts can target the drivers behind mental health disorders and symptoms like depression in teens. Together, we can provide support in a way that supports a teen’s whole well-being. We believe in our whole-person approach to care by addressing emotional, social and physical health. With Lightfully Teen, we can help empower your teen to manage their depression and take steps to a brighter future to reach their full potential. 

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, contact us. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of your teen.

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