Living Columns & Blogs

Understanding adolescent depression and anxiety

Depression and anxiety in adolescence are major challenges to mental health that impair daily functioning socially, academically, physically and mentally, and can have major long-term negative effects.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2014 it was estimated that 2.8 million (11.4 percent) of the U.S. population ages 12 to 17 had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.

In addition to their findings on depression, NIMH found the lifetime prevalence of any anxiety disorder among 13- to 18-year-olds to be 25.1 percent, with 5.9 percent diagnosed with a “severe” anxiety disorder.

Unfortunately, not all of these adolescents are receiving the proper treatment, due to various reasons ranging from access to mental health care to symptoms simply being misinterpreted as teens being teens. Left untreated, depression and anxiety can contribute to negative outcomes including academic and social impairments, low self-esteem, eating disorders, substance abuse and teen pregnancy and sexual risk-taking. Therefore, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Knowing the signs and symptoms

Depression and anxiety do not look the same for everyone, the lists below should be used as a guide. Further understanding and care should be sought from school counselors, school psychologists or other mental health care providers.


▪ Persistently feeling depressed, sad or unhappy

▪ Loss of pleasure, disinterest in activities they usually enjoy

▪ Feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness or guilt

▪ Change in grades

▪ Refusing to go to school or getting in trouble at school

▪ Change in eating and/or sleeping patterns

▪ Alcohol or substance abuse

▪ Withdrawing from friends and family

▪ Thoughts of death or suicide


▪ Worry excessively and persistently about various things

▪ Physical symptoms: headaches, fatigue, muscle aches and upset stomach

▪ Restlessness

▪ Difficulty concentrating

▪ Difficulty falling sleeping

▪ Easily startled

▪ Low self-esteem, lack of confidence

Many of the symptoms may seem typical for adolescents, however, if the symptoms for depression last longer than two weeks or the symptoms for anxiety last longer than six months and the symptoms interfere with your teen’s daily activities and relationships, you should initiate a supportive conversation with your teen and seek outside support.

Talking with your teen about mental health concerns

Talking with your teen about mental health concerns can be difficult, however, silence around the symptoms you are noticing can have deleterious effects. You will want to have a conversation with your teen. The dialogue should remain nonjudgmental while you express your concern around the symptoms you have noticed. Whatever you do, do not dismiss your teen’s feelings; simply listening and validating their feelings can go a long way.

Fallon Calandriello has a master’s degree in counseling psychology and is a doctoral candidate in counselor education at Penn State.

Additional resources

Centre County CAN HELP Crisis Line

▪ Telephone/mobile/walk-in crisis intervention services

▪ 800-643-5432

Community Help Centre

▪ Telephone/weekly drop-in center/basic needs management

▪ 237-5855 

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

▪ 800-273-8255

Child Mind Institute


Jana Marie Foundation – Candid Conversations


National Institute of Mental Health


Teen Mental Health