Guest Post: Dealing With Teen Depression

I have mentioned before that my company works on health education projects. I am very proud to have a guest post from one of my colleagues whose research focuses on physical activity interventions and how they can be used to treat depression. She is currently working on a study that is looking for participants in the Denver area, but the information she provides is universal.


Dealing With Teen Depression
by Andrea Dunn, PhD

This time of year brings on thoughts of renewal and making changes for the better. In making our resolutions, many of us strive to be better parents and try to understand our kids more. Growing out of childhood into the teen years seems even more challenging for parents and teenagers than it was back in the day, when we were teens. We’re all so busy and sometimes it’s hard to pick up on problems that our kids might be having. Many times parents can attribute serious problems as only “growing pains.” Parents sometimes don’t realize how often one or two symptoms of depression can become a full-blown illness. Small changes in a child’s behavior may signal the initial symptoms of depression. The National Research Council and Institute of Medicine found that for depression, the age at first symptom is around 11, while the age at first diagnosis is 15. This means that there may be several years before an adolescent has major depressive disorder where a parent can advocate for preventative measures for their child that will enhance resilience and coping skills. Counseling and resilience training have been found to prevent the onset of depression disorders.

Kids also may not express symptoms of depression in the same ways that adults do. In addition to symptoms of hopelessness, lack of interest in the things around them, and inability to concentrate, teens may also express depression as irritability and agitation. This can include being fidgety, restless, and moving around a lot more than usual or, conversely, isolating themselves, playing video games, and spending lots of hours on the Internet or watching TV. While almost all adolescents may display some or all of these behaviors, symptoms of depression are usually more pervasive and long lasting. In other words, these behaviors are more usual than unusual. Recently the Journal of Adolescent Health published findings indicating that over 8% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 have had a major depressive episode. As teens undergo hormonal changes, rates are two times higher in girls compared with boys.

Treatment options for adolescent depression usually include medication or talk therapy and parents can seek advice from their primary care providers or community mental health centers. The important thing is to seek help and not to give up if one treatment doesn’t seem to work. Treatment is often a process of trial and error. Many treatments are successful for many teens and their families but other treatments may also play a role in preventing or treating depressive symptoms.

There is increasing evidence that exercise, in particular, may help reduce depressive symptoms and be a useful coping strategy. We are conducting one such study in Denver, CO. This study will involve exercising 3-5 times per week, one-on-one with a recreation therapist at a Denver Parks and Recreation Center.

For more information, visit or call 303-565-4321 x3673.

This article has 9 comments

  1. anniemcq

    This is so timely for me. Even though my son is not a teenager, he will be in the blink of an eye. Depression runs in the family, and I’m going to be extra vigilant to make sure he gets enough exercise and the right nutrition to get him through. Last night on the news there was a story about a six year old girl committing suicide up here. SIX. The police say they aren’t leaning toward that ruling because a six year old can’t form intent, but they interviewed a child psychologist that said yes, it’s rare, but it can happen.

  2. Anonymous

    Thanks for sharing this , Aimee – m

  3. Megan

    I can’t believe we have to start thinking about it already, but you are right – we do. Thanks for posting this.

  4. zipper

    Great post.

  5. Jen

    I think it’s great that we are becoming more open and aware about depression. When I was in that 11-13 yr old range, I suffered with very severe depression, but for whatever reason, my parents chose not to acknowledge it. As an adult I still struggle with it. Early intervention could save so much of one’s youth.

  6. Allison

    I have a teen, wish I lived in Denver so I could participate in the study. Great post.

  7. Rachel

    So, so very important. Thank you for providing this guest post.

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