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How Teens Can Identify Mental Health Issues

July 2, 2019The Dreidel

posts from The Dreidel

By: Chanel Halimi, licensed psychotherapist in Los Angeles, CA

Do you recognize when someone has a cold? What are the symptoms? Perhaps they are coughing? Sneezing? Getting up to get tissues? Sound stuffy or congested?

Similarly, noticing if a friend is depressed may be easier than it seems if you know what you are looking for andif you are paying attention.

In this article I will provide teens with ways to identify depression in another teen, and what you can do to can help.

5 things to look for:


I’m going to start with the most serious manifestation of depression. Your peer is talking about suicide, death, ending it, or saying things like, “What’s the point?” Another indication is self-harm, which typically manifests as cutting, burning, or scratching of the skin. Sometimes they aren’t explicitly talking about these things, but they may be speaking about it indirectly such as drawing scary images or posting things related to death on their Instagram. These are an indications that someone is depressed.Sometimes we think they aren’t serious or it’s only a cry for attention. Even if that’s the case, they are likely depressed and you should talk it through with an adult immediately.


Sometimes when we ask teens if they’ve noticed changes to sleep, appetite, or weight, if they are crying more so than usual, or they are less inclined to participate in regular activities (some signs of adult depression), they are quick to say no. That’s because teen depression can look a little different. Anger, frustration, and annoyance (or what psychology terms as “irritability”) is an indication that a child or teen may be depressed. You may not notice they are irritable, but you may be able to hear it in their stories (i.e. are they often talking about being angry with others?)


While supervising at Teen Line Hotline for a year, which is an international teen-to-teen hotline, I learned that manyteens experience social difficulties. Being bullied, bullying others, complaining that they don’t have friends, picking fights with friends, being among the last to be picked for projects or teams, and isolating may all lead to or be a cause of depression. Some teens don’t want to go out on weekends, skipping parties or plans to hang out with other friends. Other teens want to go out all the time and hate being at home. Often times, these people are very sad and may not have the words to tell you how they are feeling.


Alcohol, drugs, jewels, vapes, cigarettes. Teens who use substances in large amounts and/or in a non-social fashion are often depressed and using substances to numb some pain, even if they don’t think they are. Again, they may not have the words to know what’s going on underneath.


Two other signals include body language and sleep patterns. Have you ever noticed someone who seems sluggish? Someone who might move slowly or who’s body language has become slower. Then there are teens who describe oversleeping or not sleeping enough (“I’m an insomniac.”) These are also indications that someone may be struggling.

Here are a few suggestions I’d recommend if you think someone you know may be depressed.

  1. Talk to a trusted adult. This could be a teacher, coach, school counselor, parent, or relative. I recommend someone in a school because they are often times more equipped to help than family members. Let them know what you’ve noticed and that you are concerned. Also, people who work at schools have likely dealt with similar issues before so try not to be scared.
  2. Talk to your friend about it, but be cautious of the following. Not all teens will be receptive. Some people will brush it off or attribute it to a particular circumstance. Some teens will become defensive. That is why I still recommend letting a trusted adult know. Talking to other friends may be helpful in getting it off your chest or helping you figure out what to do, but ultimately, they likely won’t be as experienced as an adult will be.
  3. Instead of discussing with friends, call a hotline or warmline. Teen Line Hotline is an excellent resource for teens. They have options to e-mail, text, and call. You can remain anonymous. As someone who has worked there, I’d recommend calling over the other options. They can spend some time helping you figure out your options and provide you with resources (websites, youtube videos, forums, etc.) Here is their website: https://teenlineonline.org/. You can also reach out to another similar hotline called Boystown National Hotline at www.yourlifeyourvoice.org.

Final words. If you are paying attention, you can likely spot a depressed teen. Know that thousands of people are feeling depressed and there is no shame. If you are concerned about anyone, please trust your instincts.

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