Teenagers are known for being moody, irritable and stressed out. Just watch any TV show and you’ll see the drama we typically associate with teens. But how do you know when normal teenage angst becomes something more?

Knowing the signs

In 2015, about 3 million teens age 12-17 had at least one major depressive episode in the previous 12 months, reports the Department of Health and Human Services. Symptoms can be lasting, worsening or acute of the following:

  • Depressed or irritable mood

  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating

  • Change in grades

  • Getting into trouble at school, or refusing to go to school

  • Change in eating habits

  • Feeling angry or irritable

  • Mood swings

  • Feeling worthless or restless

  • Frequent sadness or crying

  • Withdrawing from friends and activities

  • Loss of energy

  • Low self-esteem

  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Mental health issues know no demographic boundaries, though financial stress can compound the problem, and girls are more at risk than boys.

Realizing the dangers

In this age of endless connectivity and overstimulation, teenagers are constantly faced with social pressures, comparisons and disappointments, in addition to rising academic pressure. “Yet because brains are designed to heighten emotions during adolescence, coping with these challenges can be particularly difficult, making teens more prone to depression,” says Jill Suttie, Psy.D.

While anxiety and depression in high school kids has been on the rise since 2012, only half of teens get the treatment they need and deserve. Parents may miss warning signs, assume it’s just a phase, or wish to avoid the stigma attached to seeking professional help. But recognizing and taking action can lead to early intervention, helping teens make changes in their lives that last a lifetime.

“Treating mental health issues in teenagers is crucial. Not only can we limit the pain and impact of the illness, we then have an opportunity to support the teen, family and school in getting the teen back on the right course of growth and self discovery,” says Dr. Lynette Hsu, Head of Adolescent Mental Health Services at CHC.

Fostering an acceptance

How can parents best respond to teen depression? With empathy, acceptance and support. Rather than reacting with anger or other negative consequences, parents should validate their teen’s feelings and ask what they can do to help. Acknowledgment is much more effective than judgment, since teens may already feel stigmatized by their mental health struggles.

Teen depression and anxiety may be perceived as a personality flaw, sign of weakness or parental failure, which can be difficult for both parent and teen. Admitting the need for help can be trying, but the rewards are worth it.

Teen therapy saves lives, empowering young people to prosper with resilience and grit in the face of some of the most adverse psychological experiences. It’s an opportunity for teens to process emotions, build strategies to cope with mental health challenges and with life, and fully develop into the thriving adults they were born to be.