Updated January 2023
A few years ago, CBC News shared new data from Statistics Canada on rising rates of depression among Canadian youth. The CBC reported that Canadians ages 15 to 24 had the highest rates of depression of any age group in the country.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death (after accidents) among this same demographic—accounting for nearly a quarter of all deaths.
If you work with young people, you may have often wondered, is this "normal" teenage behaviour, or a symptom of something more serious?
At this age, hormonal and physical changes typically cause moodiness, short temper, and other kinds of erratic behaviour. At what point should you be concerned?
Start by watching out for these three very common signs of depression in teens.
Individually, these behaviors may not indicate a mental health issue, but in combination or with a high level of intensity and duration, they are definitely cause for serious concern.
1. Persistent sadness & social withdrawal
Does an adolescent you work with always seem sad? Has this attitude lasted for weeks with little change? Deep and persistent sadness is a very common warning sign of depression in young people.
It often manifests in a withdrawal from normal social activities, and possibly the loss of close friendships—which perpetuate feelings of negativity and worthlessness.
Lasting sadness may develop into suicidal thoughts and actions.
If a teen mentions self-harm or talks about ending their own life, it is definitely time to intervene—either by getting parents involved or connecting the individual with a qualified mental health professional.
2. Reckless behaviour
Depressed teens often act out through reckless, hostile, and self-destructive behaviour. Common examples include:
- Illegal acts (theft, vandalism, violence)
- Drug and/or alcohol abuse
- Acute risk-taking (failing out of school, sexual promiscuity, etc.)
- Anti-authoritarianism (willful disregard of the rules; rage against authority figures)
The impulse to self-destruct is very common in depressed adolescents. You will notice a clear pattern or chain of increasingly reckless behaviour.
3. Changes in eating and sleeping patterns
Radical changes in sleep and eating patterns are very common among depressed adolescents. These changes may include sleeping much more than usual or trouble with insomnia due to anxiety.
Youth suffering from depression may also experience a loss of appetite or turn to food as a coping mechanism.
Significant weight loss or weight gain, and dramatic changes in energy level, should be noted as a possible indicator of depression.
Barriers to treatment
What is most upsetting about Canada's high rates of depression and suicide among young people is that depression is actually highly treatable.
However, a persistent mental health stigma, lack of mental health education, and limited community resources have created barriers to treatment for many people.
Education is the key to elevating our consciousness around this issue, intervening quickly and effectively, and coordinating effective treatment options for youth with depression.
Are you looking to improve your knowledge of mental health disorders like depression?
Explore the Community Mental Health & Addictions certificate offered by Kompass Professional Development.
Students can enrol in the whole certificate or take individual community mental health courses.
Click below to explore training or chat live with an advisor for more information. We're here to help!