Is Adolescent Depression just a Normal Phase?

But they’re just teenagers!

Virginia’s parents just couldn’t understand how their daughter had changed. She had been such a nice quiet girl up until age twelve. She had done well in primary school even though she was very shy and seemed to worry excessively. Now that she was in High School she had become angry, irritable, rebellious and was skipping classes. The slightest thing could set off her very bad temper. She spent too much time alone in her room listening to music. What had gone wrong? Her parents wondered if this was just part of being a teenager but it was disrupting their entire home life.

Virginia was depressed.

Depression and other mood disorders are very common in the teen years and it is estimated that up to 20% of teens have depressive symptoms. The rate of suicide in adolescents has risen two hundred percent in the past ten years so it is now the third leading cause of death in that age group. Depression is not a normal developmental phase that will pass. Adolescent mood disorders cause serious disabilities in academic progress and personality development.

It’s not just a phase

Most adult mood disorders begin in adolescence but they are not detected due to the public perception that it is normal for teens to have emotional instability and that “it’s just a phase.” Frequently it will be assumed that a depressed irritable teen merely has “normal youthful rebellion” and then will not be considered to have a treatable illness. This is tragic. Depressed teens will respond to medications as well as adults do, so they are suffering needlessly. Without treatment, they may have developmental, academic and social problems with destructive lifelong consequences.

Symptoms in teens

The teen years are when Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D.) children begin to develop mood instability so it is very important to treat them. The symptoms of adolescent depression are the same as in adults, with perhaps a greater degree of irritability, defiance, lack of interest in school and low self esteem. Depressed teens lose the ability to enjoy activities, they change their eating habits, complain of constant fatigue and become worried or withdrawn. They may also show antisocial behavior with stealing, fighting and trouble with the law. Depressed teens have few friends since they are considered socially undesirable. Many will turn to drugs and alcohol to calm their minds from the constant stream of unpleasant negative thoughts. Addictions are very common in this condition. Families with depressed adolescents are often in constant turmoil and conflict due to the irritability of the teenager.

It’s inherited

Adolescent depression is also strongly inherited. Fifty percent of children with depressed parents will also become depressed. In my experience, teens respond to the same medications that are used in adults and with the same rate of success. It is very hard however, to convince a teenager or their parents that medications are needed. As a result, the vast majority of adolescent mood disorders remain undiagnosed and untreated, causing years of unnecessary disability and in some cases death. In the “Am I normal” section on this web site you will find a checklist of depressive symptoms common to adolescents. If you see these symptoms in a teenager, they need help quickly. Take the teenager along with the list of symptoms to a doctor and therapist to begin treatment.

What do I do next?

We have lots of resources to help you assess yourself for depression, anxiety or mood swings. These resources will also help you understand the conditions so you can help a loved one.

First do the self assessment checklists which you can even take to your doctor. Just click here.

Throughout my medical career I noticed that Christians suffered from depression differently than non Christians. You can download my article that describes this difference and why it happens in  How depression affects Christians.

Personal coaching appointments are available where we can meet online or by phone. I will answer your questions about mood disorders and explain the recovery process.

Emotionally free

Emotionally Free – The first third of the book explains the nature and treatment of mood disorders from a Christian perspective and includes the symptom checklists for self assessment. The rest of the book explains problems with our personality and spirit.



Have a look at these DVDs/CDs/direct downloads – watch 5 minute previews online

Depression, the path to recoveryDepression, The Path to Recovery As 2 disc of 10 TV interviews with Dr. Mullen where he explains a Christian understanding of depression, anxiety and mood swings. Our most popular DVD.


Moods, what Christians should know... Moods, what Christians should know about depression, anxiety and mood swings Christians are often very confused and misinformed about the nature and treatment of mental illnesses. They are also very suspicious of psychiatric treatments, so many are suffering needlessly from correctable conditions. This presentation will remove the mystery and confusion about the diagnosis and treatment of depression, anxiety and mood swings.

Fear, when trust is lost Fear, When Trust is Lost You will get the tools to overcome and take control of the worries and fears that disrupt your life.


Free Q&A videos

Why do I feel so far from God when I’m depressed?
How do I know if I need medications for my mood?
How do I know if my depression has been healed?
How long do I need to stay on antidepressants?
What is the ultimate cure for worry?

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