Is Your Teenager Depressed? 5 Red Flags

Available for Interviews: Dr. Pete Loper

Dr. Pete Loper, MD, MSEd, FAAP, is a triple board-certified physician in pediatrics, psychiatry, and child psychiatry. He is also a professor and executive coach and is dedicated to mental health and wellness advocacy.

What Dr. Loper could say on
Determining Your Teen’s Possible Depression:

As a pediatrician, a child and adolescent psychiatrist, and the parent of a teenager, I believe that the best strategy to support our teenagers’ well-being is to engage in a consistent practice of meaningful interaction.  Being intentional with dedicating a few minutes a day to “check-in” with your adolescent can go a long way.  But even with a consistent and open dialogue regarding their mental health, teenagers may not always be forthcoming in telling you how they feel.  Life gets busy, and there are more distractions today than ever.  Given their independence and reluctance to fully express themselves, especially to mom or dad, it is important to be on the lookout for “red flags” that may indicate that they may be experiencing depression.  Below are 5 “red flags” that may indicate that your teenager is experiencing a depressive episode.  To determine if your adolescent might be at risk for depression ask the following questions: 

1. Are they constantly seeking reassurance?

Distress is a vital ingredient for healthy human development, and adolescence is full of it. The rate-limiting step (at any age) to processing distress, and moving forward, is social support via meaningful interactions with others. When adolescents are healthy, they will seek your support to process their distress, and then move on to the next challenge. If they are depressed, support-seeking may turn into reassurance-seeking.  They may get “stuck” or “freeze” in their distress, unable to process it and move on.  Instead of being confident, self-assured, and engaged in the exploration of novelty inherent in adolescence, they become perseverative, tentative, or even obsessive. 

2. Are they not getting along with anyone?
(Interpersonal dysfunction peers, family, teachers)

As described above, when adolescents are healthy, they will seek social support to process and move past their distress.  However, when depressed, they may have difficulty with their distress tolerance.  This may manifest as interpersonal discord with friends, family, or teachers.  They may be more prone to get into arguments over seemingly little things.  

3. Do they think that everyone dislikes them or is dismissive of
them? (negative attributions about the perceptions
or intent of others)

When teenagers are down or depressed, it may be difficult for them to separate their own negative feelings from their beliefs about how their friends or family perceive them.  Their perceptions of others’ actions, behaviors, or comments may mirror their own internal negative experience, and they may misinterpret others as being overly harmful, negative, or condescending. 

4. Is their performance dropping?
(Academic failure, school avoidance)

As described above, avoidance, withdrawal, or acting out behaviors may all be “red flags” that your adolescent is depressed.  When adolescents begin to avoid and withdraw from the school setting, from their schoolwork, or from their extracurriculars, this may provide the most objective evidence of an emerging depressive episode.  When their performance begins to decline and suffer, there’s a good chance that their mood may be declining or suffering too. 

5. Are they withdrawing from social interaction?
(social withdrawal)

This is the most important question to ask yourself when you are assessing your teenager’s mental health.  Adolescence is the moment in human development when we integrate into our broader communities to seek the social support necessary to process our distress and move forward.  At which time a teenager removes themselves from meaningful interpersonal interactions embedded in the context of community, their development becomes jeopardized.  Most importantly, suicidal ideation thrives in the context of isolation.  Evidence of social withdrawal might be the biggest “red flag” that your teenager is suffering from depression. 


Interview: Dr. Pete Loper

Dr. Pete Loper began his undergraduate studies in English at Kenyon College prior to completing his premedical coursework and Bachelor of Arts at the University of South Carolina (U of SC).  He earned his Doctor of Medicine from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, and his Master of Science in Education from the University of Pennsylvania.  Following medical school, Dr. Loper completed a residency in pediatrics. He then worked as a pediatrician in a private practice setting while completing a second residency in psychiatry and a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry.  He has also completed the American Psychoanalytic Association’s Psychoanalytic Fellowship Program and the Teleos Leadership Institute’s Coach Development Program.

Dr. Loper has been featured in numerous academic publications and media outlets and it is through these channels that he can dedicate his time to being an advocate for mental health and wellness.

Jo Allison
Managing Editor
Director of Public Relations
Success In Media, Inc.

Leave a Reply