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10 Signs Your Teen Might Be Depressed or Anxious

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Trenna Sutcliffe

Topics Covered:

Anxiety Disorder,Mood Disorder
Depression and anxiety have been on the rise among teenagers in the United States

In recent years, we’ve seen the start of a crisis in youth mental health. According to the CDC, feelings of “persistent sadness and hopelessness” increased by 40% in the 10 years before the pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic only worsened conditions, leading to a lot of social isolation and disruption for teens, not to mention the loss of loved ones.

Furthermore, factors like social media, climate change, and school shootings have taken a toll on the mental health of teens around the world. In this environment, it can be challenging to know when your teen is struggling, much less how to help them.

These ten signs are common indicators of mental health challenges and can help you understand and respond to your child’s struggles.


One of the most common signs of mental health challenges in teenagers is withdrawal. If you notice your teen not spending time with their peers or interacting with their friends, it could be because they’re struggling with their mental health. One way to describe this symptom is their life being “smaller” or more limited than it used to be.


Changes in sleep patterns can be common during adolescence, with many teens going to bed and waking up later. However, a significant increase or decrease in sleep can signal some form of distress as a cause. Insomnia can be linked to ruminating on anxious thoughts, and almost 75% of patients with depression experience it. On the other hand, excessive sleep is frequently present in teens as a response to decreased energy, or as an avoidance strategy for stressors.


Both increases and decreases in appetite can be a sign that your teen is struggling with their mental health. Increased levels of stress that are common with anxiety can lower appetite. Additionally, the overall loss of interest that accompanies many mental illnesses can extend to appetite as well. Food can also be used as a tool to self-soothe or find pleasure, especially when someone is depressed. Changes in eating can bring up a lot of shame and worsen body image concerns in teens, which is already common.

Loss of appetite is usually just a stage a teen goes through. But it could also be a sign of teen depression.


Issues with concentration and memory can be common indicators that someone is struggling with mental illness. This symptom can also be described as “brain fog” or a sense of “cloudiness”. Clinically, this is often referred to as “cognitive dysfunction”, and can manifest as decreased reaction time, difficulty with executive functioning skills, and an impaired ability to think clearly. This is commonly a sign of depression, but can also take place after a traumatic or very stressful event.


Adolescence can be a very stressful time, as teens are being challenged academically and can struggle to keep up with rapidly changing social dynamics. These stressors can be difficult to cope with but are generally a normal part of being a teen. However, if your teen seems excessively worried and nervous about many parts of their life, it may be a sign that they are struggling with more intense anxiety.


If your teen suddenly begins struggling with self-care and hygiene and this problem becomes consistent, it can indicate they are being impacted by a deeper issue, such as depression or trauma. These challenges can look like not brushing their teeth, washing their hair, or taking a shower due to low energy and motivation.


A common symptom on the social side of things is a sudden change in your teen’s social life. This connects to withdrawal, but can also include having an abrupt change in their friend group or a different set of friends that you’ve never heard about. Beyond friendships, sudden changes in your teen’s hobbies and interests can be linked to mental health as well.


A decrease in your teen’s activity level, especially if it’s significant and lasting, can signal challenges with their mental health. This can frequently show up as not doing or enjoying the activities they used to enjoy. For example, your teen giving up a favorite sport that they’ve been playing for years could be a sign that something deeper is wrong.


Substance use is a frequent cause for concern among the parents of teenagers, but it can also arise in response to battles with mental illness. Behaviors such as smoking or drinking can be a form of self-medication to deal with distress or despair. While substance use can be a result of the peer pressure and influence common with teenagers, a sudden start or increase in use may be caused by a mental health issue, especially if it’s accompanied by a corresponding change in mood.


Finally, the language your teen uses can be telling of their mental state. Especially if they’re depressed, when someone is struggling with their mental health it can impact their word choice. The sense that nothing will ever change or get better is often pervasive and could manifest in your teen describing things in a hopeless or deeply pessimistic way.

We hope these signs can help you recognize if your teenager is struggling with mental health. It’s easy to feel alone in these challenges, but the Sutcliffe Clinic has resources that can help your teen as an individual as well as the whole family through these battles. For more information, you can explore our mental health services.