teen sadness vs depression

Teenage Depression and its Levels of Severity

June 14, 2018

Teenage Depression and its Levels of Severity

Mental illnesses can be difficult to diagnose especially for teens. They are already prone to moodiness caused by the stress of school, social anxieties and their own hormonal imbalances. Some of the symptoms of depression may be discounted as simply teenage angst or missed altogether especially when the depression is mild. However, long term symptoms, especially those that become impossible to ignore may signify a much deeper depression and may need intense medical treatment. This treatment may include placement in a treatment center until symptoms are at a more manageable level.

Depression typically can be classified as either mild, moderate or major. Moderate and major depression will require the most intensive treatment. Major depression, especially with suicidal thoughts or actions will require immediate medical intervention.

How Prevalent is Mental Illness in Teens?

  • 1 in 5 teens ages 13-18 will have a serious mental health disorder
  • 11% of that age group will have a mood disorder
  • 10% will have a behavior or conduct disorder
  • 8% will have an anxiety disorder
  • Nearly half of all mental ill disorders are diagnosed by the age of 14, by 24 the number is 75%
  • 70% of the youth in the juvenile system have a mental health disorder
  • 90% of all youth suicide deaths have an underlying mental health disorder


In regards to major depressive episodes among teens:

  • 12.5 of teens 12-17 had at least one major depressive episode. This number has been increasing every year since 2009
  • Girls are at higher risk with 19.5 females in that age group having had a major depressive episode (MDE)


A mild depression is the hardest to diagnose for a number of reasons. First, it is easy to mistake some of the behaviors as “typical” for teens. The symptoms may include insomnia or sleeping too much, weight gain or loss, aches and pains without any real cause, a lack of motivation or interest in doing normal activities. Mood changes including irritability, a feeling of guilt and despair or hopelessness and self-loathing are also symptoms of mild depression. Some teens may act out especially in reckless ways including experimenting with drugs and alcohol or becoming promiscuous.

Moderate depression may include many or all of the above symptoms as well as more serious problems with self-esteem and increased worry even about things they may have no control over. Moderate depression may last longer than mild depression and may be more noticeable to family and other adults.

Major depression can be a medical emergency and should be dealt with promptly. The symptoms can include all of those for both mild and moderate depression but may also include a number of far more serious symptoms that can include delusions and hallucinations, a feeling of stupor. For instance, the teen may seem withdrawn and have glazed eyes. He may be unresponsive to questions and may not even seem to notice that others are in the room with him. The most serious potential symptom of major depression is suicidal thoughts and feelings or even actual suicide attempts. While many of the symptoms can go on for months at a time, suicidal thoughts or behaviors must be treated immediately. This may include the need for in-patient treatment at a qualified treatment center, preferably one that is trained to deal with teens.


While more teens are being diagnosed with mental health disorders, there is still a lot of improvement needed in their care. “The average delay between the onset of initial symptoms and the start of intervention is 8 to 10 years.” (Nami.Org) During that time period, kids are being incorrectly labeled as troublemakers and worse, being sent to juvenile facilities. Many are misdiagnosed and treated for the wrong thing which may do more harm than good. Meanwhile, their mental health continues to deteriorate and decline. Sadly, many of those teens may attempt or even succeed at suicide before they have a chance to be diagnosed and properly treated.

Treatment will vary from teen to teen and may depend on their level of depression and their specific immediate and long term needs. For some, it may be simply counseling and therapy sessions both one on one and with the family. For others it may mean treatment with medications and counseling. Other teens may need more serious care at a treatment facility. Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center is a teen-only behavior, mental health and addiction center which specializes in the treatment of teens and serious conditions.