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Depression and Anxiety in Adolescents and How Recovery Is Possible

The rates of depression and anxiety in adolescents are rising. In fact, 50 percent more teenagers have been diagnosed with clinical depression than in the last two decades. While there’s no one reason for this spike, the current culture and use of technology adds a level of stress to adolescents that previous generations didn’t have to contend with. Once the sources of a teenager’s mental illness are understood, their chances of recovery are much higher.

Root Causes of Depression and Anxiety in Adolescents

Before considering adolescent mental illness recovery, psychiatric care givers must first identify the root cause of their condition. Some of the possible root causes for depression and anxiety include hormones, social media, family dynamics, and social pressures. Each has its own set of stressors.


Hormones are the chemicals that cause a teenager’s physical and mental transformation from childhood to adulthood. The transitional nature of puberty means that the chemicals are still settling in and causing changes in the adolescent, leading to extreme mood changes. In fact, the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for the brain’s decision-making, isn’t fully developed until a person’s mid-20s.

These changes are typical in the puberty process. The challenge here is in how parents can distinguish between behavioral patterns created from teenage hormones or mental illness.

Social Media

The negative connections between teenage mental health and social media are becoming more evident over the years. Statistics from Monitoring the Future and the CDC showed that teenagers who spend more time behind the screen are more at risk for depression and suicide. The University of Pittsburgh found adolescents who spent time on social media were 2.2 times more likely to suffer from anxiety, overeating, and body image concerns.

Social media connects people with each other but, for young people especially, it also creates specific sources of anxiety and depression adolescents must handle daily. Some of the sources include:

  • Lack of physical interaction
  • Lack of privacy
  • Cyberbullying
  • Unrealistic comparisons
  • Worries over “likes” or other social media responses

A healthy balance between social media and real-time socialization can prevent some of these drawbacks.

Family Dynamics

Familial relationships can also increase the potential for anxiety and depression. An unstable home life can lead to damaging conditions, especially when home is supposed to offer refuge from social pressures. The most prominent family dynamic that leads to stress and depression is the escalating expectations parents can place on their teens. The effects of dynamics between family, even if they come from small conflicts or squabbles, are possibly amplified by other factors such as social media and teenage hormones.

Social Pressures

Because adolescents are transitioning between childhood and adulthood, they are often unprepared to face growing social pressures. Just as with family dynamics, these pressures can escalate due to teenage hormonal imbalances and the integration of social media in these social dynamics. The teenage years have their own set of social expectations and difficulties, which include:

  • Academic demands and expectations
  • Social hierarchies
  • Romantic relationships and sexuality
  • Hopes and aspirations for the future
  • Bullying

Signs of Depression in Teenagers and Adolescents

Parents must observe their teenagers closely if they suspect they suffer from depression. Young adults with depression have an increased risk of suicide, which according to the CDC is the second-leading cause of teen death. Some signs of depression, particularly among the youth, include the following:

  • Low energy
  • Change in eating and sleeping habits
  • Frequent sadness or crying
  • Poor communication
  • Poor concentration
  • Sensitivity to failure or rejection
  • Social isolation
  • Irritability, anger or hostility
  • Lack of interest in hobbies

It is important to note that pre-adolescent children can also suffer from depression and anxiety, thus displaying similar signs and symptoms.

Signs of Anxiety in Teenagers and Adolescents

Just as with depression, anxiety can create the conditions that place a young person at risk of suicide. Once again, parents must observe the signs associated with anxiety in order to address mental illness and prevent worsening conditions. Some general signs of anxiety are:

  • Worries about loved ones, school or activities
  • Obsessive and compulsive tendencies
  • Irrational worries about theoretical scenarios
  • Lack of confidence and self-esteem
  • Fear of making mistakes

In addition, the three types of anxiety (separation, phobia, and social) have their own unique symptoms.

Separation Anxiety

The symptoms of separation anxiety include:

  • Clinginess
  • Difficulty sleeping and nightmares
  • School absence
  • Ailments and pain
  • Fears about the safety of parents
  • Panic over separation from loved ones
  • Worries about being away from home


The symptoms of phobias include:

  • Fears about a specific thing or event
  • Distress that interferes with lifestyle
  • Panic Attacks

Social Anxiety

The symptoms of social anxiety adolescents often face include:

  • Avoidance of socialization
  • Little to no friends
  • Fear towards new people

Young adolescents are also susceptible to any type of anxiety as frequently as teenagers. The signs of anxiety are largely similar.

Assistance in Recovery

Fifth Avenue Psychiatry has a long-standing history of helping young people and their parents deal with issues stemming from depression and anxiety. If you’re concerned about your teen’s anxiety or depression, please call 212-734-0506.

Dr. Tracey Bassett, Psy.D.

Dr. Tracey Bassett, Psy.D.

Dr. Bassett is a licensed clinical psychologist in New York State. Dr. Bassett is a specialist in working with adolescents and young adults. She has combined her strong background in adolescent psychology, DBT (see below) and family treatment with Dr. Glazer’s focus on chemical dependency and addiction to create a program at Fifth Avenue Psychiatry specifically designed for adolescents and emerging adults with substance abuse issues.

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