Adolescence is a time of change, and if you’re a parent, a time turmoil on the homefront. Beyond the fluctuating moods and hormones of puberty, though, adolescence is also a time that many teenagers begin to exhibit signs of mental health disorders like depression or anxiety. All of this can create a tense home environment, and as a parent, you may find yourself wondering whether or not your child is just moody or is having more serious struggles. Here’s a brief breakdown to help you distinguish between signs of depression and signs of moodiness.

Common signs of depression

Because a change in demeanor is a key thing to look out for when someone has depression, adolescence can muddy your ability to determine whether or not your teen has depression or is just having a hard time dealing with the other pressures of middle and high school. Thankfully, you can look out for some behaviors and emotions in your teen to catch depression at the onset. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, emotional changes that could signal depression include loss of interest in hobbies, an increase in self-criticism and blame, becoming frustrated about life’s minor faults, and having a generally negative outlook on life. Behavioral changes to note in your teen include major changes in sleep patterns, use of alcohol, and other signs of self-harm. Establishing a baseline with your teen through frequent conversations is a valuable approach to parenting that will also help you understand whether or not a change is caused by a normal problem at school or something more serious.  

What counts as “moody”?

If you found yourself thinking that many of the aforementioned signs of depression could also be dismissed, you wouldn’t be wrong. Dealing with agitation, feelings of hopelessness, and frustration is a part of everybody’s life, teen or not. Even so, when any of the above behaviors are seen in a persistent fashion, or in conjunction with other warning signs, something more serious than just general moodiness may be at play. Again, speaking with your teen frequently about what’s upsetting him or her is an excellent way to begin to get to the bottom of these kinds of issues. If you witness a sudden outburst at the dinner table, but understand that your teen ended a relationship or did poorly on a big test, you’ll be more likely to correctly classify the outburst as moodiness and nothing else.

When to get help

Of course, all of this can be confusing and hard to pin down, especially when you’re talking about your child. It can be challenging to form a clear, objective perspective when you’re dealing with the day-to-day struggles of a loved one, and for these reasons, it’s never a bad idea to reach out to a professional to get their opinion. If it turns out that your teen does have depression, plenty of resources can help them create strategies for managing their mental health. Many organizations also have an online presence with plenty of resources to help you seek treatment for your teen, such as, which offers a residential treatment center as well as a blog with articles about the mental health of teenagers.

Parenting teens is full of challenges, but it can also be one of the most rewarding parts of being a parent. In the teenage years, your children are coming into their own, and this can be exciting. But it also requires understanding whether they may be struggling with mental health problems that go beyond the day-to-day stressors of being a teen. Know what signs to recognize as warnings of depression, and talk with your child often, so that you can bring in professional help if and when it’s needed.