Skip to main content

What Causes Depression In Teenagers?

depressed teenager

The term depression is sometimes used flippantly in American society as a means to describe someone who is grumpy and/ or upset. However, its clinical name, as is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) major depressive disorder, more accurately encompasses this serious mental health illness. Depression is a mood disorder that is the manifestation of the dysregulation of one’s brain function that controls emotions. It is characterized by intense and persistent negative emotions. These pervasive emotions (symptoms of depression) can interfere with a young person’s ability to properly function in his or her daily life, leading to educational, personal, social and/ or family difficulties. Depression affects the way a teenager feels, thinks, and acts. A teenager struggling with depression cannot just “snap out of it,” as it is a medical condition that elicits a chemical reaction in one’s brain, which in turn affects the way the young person is able to control his or her mood and emotions.


The exact reason behind why a young person develops depression remains unknown. However, there are several factors that have been reported to contribute to its potential development, which include the following, as provided by Stanford Children’s Health

  • Genetics: many studies have hypothesized that depression is genetic and that people with blood relatives (i.e. parent, grandparent, etc.) who have been diagnosed with depression may have an increased predisposition to developing the condition themselves. 
  • Hormones: the hormone shifts and subsequent hormone imbalances that adolescents experience could be involved in triggering or causing depression.
  • Brain chemistry: when neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry signals to other parts of the brain and body) are impaired and/ or abnormal the function of the nerve receptors and nerve systems in one’s brain are altered, which can result in the development of depression. 
  • Exposure to trauma: exposure to early childhood trauma (i.e. emotional abuse, physical abuse, neglect, etc.) could lead to changes in one’s brain development and structure (i.e. creating neural pathways solely to accommodate and store the trauma) that may make a person more susceptible to developing depression. 
  • Learned feelings of helplessness: the development of teenage depression could be linked to learned patterns of negative thinking and feelings of inadequacy. 
  • Substance abuse: some teenagers turn to drugs and/ or alcohol as a coping mechanism for managing the stressors of adolescence. While for some, this could result in fleeting relief; its affect on a teen’s mood (and depending on the substance, brain) could trigger depression. 

Depression can develop in a young person that is not exposed to any of the above examples. Similarly, a teenager that is exposed to one or more of the above does not inevitably go on to develop depression. While adolescents are faced with a plethora of difficulties throughout their teenage years, most of which they are ill equipped to handle emotionally, the development of depression is not and should not be considered a foregone conclusion. 

For Information and Support 

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at or through our contact form.

Close Menu
Back to top