Depression is a mental health condition that can cause irritability, fatigue, and an inability to concentrate. A healthcare professional will generally perform medical and psychological evaluations when making a diagnosis. They may also use the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) to learn the extent of depressive symptoms.

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states that in 2020, about 4.1 million individuals aged 12–17 years experienced one major depressive episode. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than 1 in 3 high school students had persistent feelings of sadness in 2019.

Everyone feels moody from time to time, but depression is different. It can be overwhelming and long lasting.

If you are a teen or young person and think you may have depression, speak with a trusted adult and ask for help. Seeking help when symptoms become apparent can help stop depression from affecting your quality of life.

In this article, we look at how the PH-Q9 and other tests can help doctors determine whether a young person has depression, how to recognize the symptoms, and how to get help.

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The PHQ-9 is a questionnaire that therapists and other healthcare professionals use to examine someone’s depression symptoms and how they respond to treatment.

The PHQ-9 asks a person ages 12 years or older whether and how long they have been experiencing:

  • poor appetite
  • concentration difficulties
  • sadness
  • thoughts of suicide

A 2019 study reviewed the effects and accuracy of the PHQ-9 in males and females of all ages. The study found it to be more effective than a diagnostic interview at picking up depression-associated behavior.

An older article notes that a person can answer the PHQ-9 test questions over the phone. This can be beneficial for those unable to attend an in-person appointment.

If a person sees a doctor about depression, the doctor will start by asking about their symptoms. They will also ask questions to establish whether there is a specific reason for depression.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry notes that teens may feel depressed if they are stressed, lose a loved one, or get bullied at school.

People may undergo a medical evaluation exam to confirm a diagnosis and rule out other mental or physical causes of depression symptoms.

For example, fatigue can be a symptom of both depression and anemia. Other conditions that can produce similar symptoms include hypopituitary disorder, which leads to a hormone imbalance, or another mental health issue.

After the medical evaluation, a doctor or psychologist performs a psychological evaluation asking questions about an individual’s behavior, school performance, and problems.

For a diagnosis of depression, a teen will have had some of the following symptoms for at least 2 weeks:

  • persistent sadness or low mood
  • anxiety
  • a sense of hopelessness
  • irritability or frustration
  • restlessness
  • feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • loss of interest or pleasure in activities they used to enjoy, such as socializing or doing hobbies
  • fatigue or low energy
  • problems thinking, focusing, remembering, or making decisions
  • sleeping more or less than usual
  • changes in appetite, weight, or both
  • thinking about death or suicide, or attempting suicide
  • aches, pains, and other symptoms with no clear cause
  • thinking about or carrying out self-harm

However, depression can affect people in different ways. If you have concerns that you may have depression, speak with a trusted adult and ask them for help.

Sometimes, it may be challenging to determine whether a teen has depression or is going through natural mood changes.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a doctor may provide a depression diagnosis if symptoms last 2 weeks or longer.

Depression is different than sadness or grief. Grief is a natural process a person goes through after losing a loved one, and it does not involve self-esteem issues. When someone is depressed, they feel worthless and experience a loss of pleasure in activities for weeks.

Low mood may improve when an individual changes the habits or circumstances that are affecting them.

Various factors may contribute to teen depression, including:

  • anxiety
  • trauma
  • stress
  • a family history of depression

Teens and children may develop depression if they experience bullying, sexual abuse, or the separation of their parents.

Parents or caregivers should seek help if their children have symptoms of depression. Teens should talk with someone they trust if they have been feeling down for days.

How teens can seek help

If you are worried about depression, do not keep it to yourself.

The NIMH recommends that a person seek help if they are feeling sad, cannot concentrate, or are unable to enjoy the things they usually love doing.

A teen can try speaking with a parent or guardian, teacher, or school counselor about how they feel. They could also ask a doctor what type of professional help is available. A doctor may recommend counseling, medication, or both.

How caregivers can seek help

Parents or caregivers who suspect that their teens are struggling with their mental health should consider the condition a serious matter.

Without treatment, depression during childhood can increase the risk of having thoughts of suicide and severe depressive episodes later in life.

Depression is a mental health condition that requires professional help. Family and friends cannot cure depression, but they can be supportive and ensure that a teen has a safe outlet for sharing their thoughts.

Parents or caregivers can visit the following support groups for help if their teens have depression:

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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A doctor can prescribe treatment to help manage teen depression.

Options will likely include a combination of the following:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that antidepressants may increase the risk of suicidal thoughts in some people under the age of 25 years. A person should discuss the benefits and drawbacks of antidepressants with their prescribing doctor and follow the doctor’s instructions carefully.

Depression can affect teens experiencing stress, bullying, family problems, or other factors.

Symptoms of depression last for at least 2 weeks and can include feelings of sadness or low mood, a loss of interest in activities, and fatigue.

Caregivers should seek professional help if they are concerned about their child’s mental health. Healthcare professionals may use the PHQ-9 questionnaire to screen for depression. They will also evaluate for other conditions that could be causing symptoms of depression.

Medications and therapy are among the treatment options for teens with depression.