Young Adult and Teen Depression

Depression is one of the most common mental health issues facing young people today.

What is depression?

Depression is a serious mental health condition characterized by feelings of extreme sadness and a loss of interest in the things you love. For many, depression may interfere with everyday life, affect physical health, and even lead to suicidal thoughts. Although depression is highly treatable with a combination of therapy and medication, over half of young people with major depression do not receive treatment.

Teens and young people dealing with depression often report feeling an overwhelming sense of despair and worthlessness. Depression is also frequently associated with co-occurring mental health issues, including substance use disorders, anxiety disorders, and PTSD.


Fortunately, with appropriate treatment and support, teens and young people with depression can overcome their symptoms and lead healthy, fulfilling lives. Charlie Health’s customized mental health treatment programs are designed to help people struggling with depression through a combination of individual therapy, family therapy, and supported groups.

Signs & symptoms of depression in young adults and teens

Symptoms of depression vary from person-to-person. For example, some people exhibit uncontrollable anger, while others lack the energy to get out of bed. Furthermore, people with similar symptoms may have different severities of each one.

An official depression diagnosis in teens and young adults means that someone has been dealing with at least five of the following symptoms:

  1. Persistently low mood
  2. Intrusive thoughts about death or committing suicide
  3. Feeling uninterested in activities they used to enjoy, such as sports or music
  4. Feeling guilty or worthless
  5. Increased substance use
  6. Disruptions to sleep
  7. Changes in eating habits
  8. Unexplained aches and pains
  9. Reckless behaviors such as excessive speeding or unprotected sex

Depression is frequently associated with co-occurring mental health issues such as substance use disorders, anxiety disorders, PTSD, and ADHD.
Teen with depression doing online therapy

Types of depression

“Depression” is often a catch-all phrase used for a number of different diagnoses. The five main types of depression are:

Major depressive disorder (MDD):

Commonly referred to as “clinical depression,” major depressive disorder affects over 4 million teens each year.

Persistent depressive disorder (PDD):

Also known as “dysthymia,” persistent depressive disorder is a form of depression that’s characterized by its duration. In order to be considered “persistent,” depression must last longer than one year for teens and longer than two years for adults.

Bipolar depression:

Depression is almost always thought of as feeling “low,” but in young adults and teens bipolar depression, these lows are paired with periods of feeling “high” or mania. There are multiple types of bipolar depression under this category, but all of them are defined by drastic changes in mood over a measurable period of time.

Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD):

PMDD is a serious form of premenstrual disorder (PMS). PMS symptoms usually cause some emotional changes, so the key distinction in PMDD is the intensity of the fluctuations in the young adult or teen’s emotional state. These changes range from feelings of severe anxiety to suicidal thoughts which are often exacerbated by he physical symptoms associated with PMS.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD):

Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that is exacerbated by changes in the season. It typically worsens in the winter, when there is often less exposure to natural light, and improves in the spring and summer. In some cases, however, SAD occurs in the spring, with some young adults and teens reporting more manic than depressive symptoms during these sunnier months.

Causes of young adult and teen depression

There is no single explanation for depression in teens and young adults. In most cases, a combination of factors lead to the development of depressive symptoms. Some of these include:


While there is some debate in the scientific research community over whether or not brain chemistry is tied to depression, authoritative knowledge has held for years that imbalances in the parts of the brain that control basic human functionality such as eating, sleeping, and relating to others may indicate a predisposition to depression.

Trauma or Stressful Events

Sometimes a stressful or sad event in life can set off depression, especially early in life. Losing a loved one, a job, or a relationship can cause immediate grief. However, if those feelings linger for longer than two weeks, it’s important to seek professional mental health support. Intervention cannot take away the pain, but it can give teens and young adults the tools to work through their feelings and function daily.

Family History of Depression

If someone in your family has dealt with depression or other serious mental health issues, you may be more likely to experience them as well.


Serotonin is the hormone (and neurotransmitter, or brain signal) that comes to mind when many people think about depression. It’s just one of many hormones that may be unbalanced when a person reports symptoms of depression.

Complex Trauma

The ways in which trauma affects the body and mind are still being studied, but experts largely agree that experiencing serious and/or sustained trauma in childhood is linked to depression into the teen and adult years.

Substance Abuse

The correlation between substance use disorders and depression is well-studied. SUDs affect not only physiology and brain chemistry, but also the ability to form healthy relationships with others and with yourself.

Chronic Illness & Pain

Beyond dealing with the regular occurrence of pain or other physical limitations, chronic illness and pain can be very isolating, with nearly 85% of people with chronic pain reporting symptoms of depression. At Charlie Health, our clients can attend specific support groups for dealing with both chronic illness or pain alongside depression and other mental health issues.

Woman with depression alone looking sad

Young adult and teen depression treatment

Getting mental healthcare can be difficult when you’re living with depression. Depression’s symptoms make it hard to get dressed, get out of the house, go to school, and participate in sports or other activities.

Fortunately, depression in teens and young adults is highly treatable. Based on recent research, the mental health community estimates that 80 percent of people with depression feel better once they’ve started treatment.

Every person’s experience with depression is unique to them. That’s why a holistic combination of treatment options is usually the most effective way to sustainably treat depression.

Treatment options include: 

  1. Individual therapy
  2. Medication
  3. Mindfulness techniques
  4. Lifestyle changes
  5. Group therapy
  6. Intensive outpatient programs (IOP)

What works for one patient may not be sufficient for another. It’s essential to work with a qualified mental health care provider to get a personalized care plan to fit your needs.

Young adult and teen depression support at Charlie Health

Our virtual mental health treatment programs allow teens and young adults struggling with depression to access care from the comfort of home. We work with you to design a plan that fits your needs, schedule, and goals. If you are being discharged from an inpatient program or are in need of more support than once-weekly therapy for depression, Charlie Health can provide the higher level of care you need to ensure a successful recovery.

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