Health & Fitness

How to spot the symptoms of teenage depression — and possibly save a teen’s life


Consider this: The second-leading cause of death for adolescents between 12 and 18 is suicide.

Nearly 18 percent — or about 1 in 5 students between ninth and 12th grades — had thought about attempting suicide over a 12-month period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Moreover, 14.6 percent of students nationwide had a plan detailing how they would kill themselves.

People think that only children who cry, are lonely or are bullied suffer from depression. In reality, to be diagnosed with major depression, children must suffer from a depressed mood or find less pleasure in things from which they used to receive enjoyment. Additionally, they may experience changes in appetite, sleep, energy and concentration. Some will have feelings of guilt or suicidal thoughts. Five of these symptoms must be present for at least a two-week period to be diagnosed as depressed.

Unlike adults, children may not admit to feeling depressed. Rather, they may be irritable, angry, have physical complaints or behavior changes. Parents should be cautious if their child’s grades fall or if their child suddenly engages in risky behaviors like regularly using drugs or alcohol. Other times, children and adolescents become withdrawn, socially isolated and may engage in self-injurious behaviors including cutting or burning.

If you are concerned that your child may be depressed, take them to a mental health professional, such as a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. Both therapy and medications can be helpful in treating childhood depression. Some medications can take six to eight weeks to have full effect, so early intervention is crucial.

If your child is suicidal, call 911 immediately so a mental health professional can do an evaluation. Depression and suicide must be treated. Professional care can be the difference between life and death.

Drs. Samantha Saltz and Julie Furst are physicians under the guidance of Dr. Judith Regan, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the University of Miami Health System. To learn more about UHealth’s clinical services, visit