How to Recognize Depression and Anxiety in Your Kids

It really hurts me to see our kids suffering. With so many cases of mental illness and depression impacting the younger generation; it’s time for society to recognize the urgency of the problem, and take a stand to help our youth stabilize or overcome their states of anxiety and depression to prevent harm to themselves or others.

Meet Diane Lang; she is an expert on the subject.

Article Contributed by: Diane Lang

Diane Lang – Therapist, Educator, Life Coach. She is dedicated to helping people turn their lives around and is now on a mission to help them develop a sustainable, positive attitude. She has a M.A. in Counseling, and a B.A. in Liberal Arts from the New York Institute of Technology. She also has a Positive Psychology coaching certificate from the Wholebeing Institute. She has been on numerous network television programs and in magazines discussing her expertise in her fields of therapy. Last but not least, she is an author and her latest book is called, “Creating Balance and Finding Happiness.”

Read along as Diane gives you the signs that can help you recognize depression and anxiety in your kids to possibly prevent public and personal tragedies from happening.

Signs of Depression in Teens

Stats: 1 in 5 teenagers from all walks of life will suffer from depression at some point during their teen years. 

Things to note: Teenage depression is highly treatable with help; and occasional bad moods or acting out is expected and normal during the teenage years.

What to look for in teens

  1. Low energy and concentration/focus difficulties at school. This can lead to poor academic performance, high absenteeism, lateness and frustration in school.
  2. Running away – either talking about it or running away are signs of depression. This is a cry for help.
  3. Drug and Alcohol abuse – it’s a way to self-medicate their depression. Unfortunately, it only makes matters worse.
  4. Low self-esteem – depression can intensify teens feelings of ugliness, shame, failure and unworthiness.
  5. Smartphone addiction – teens use their technology as a form of escaping their problems. Social media can lead to isolation, FOMO (fear of missing out), comparing themselves to others, and depression.
  6. Reckless behavior – teens may engage in dangerous or high-risk behaviors such as reckless driving, unsafe sex, and binge drinking.
  7. Violence –usually boys can become aggressive and violent.

Other signs can be self-injury, eating disorders, and other mental health problems.


  1. Sadness or hopelessness
  2. Irritability or anger
  3. Frequent crying
  4. Withdrawal from family, friends, and activities they enjoy
  5. Poor school performance
  6. Change in eating and/or sleeping habits.
  7. Feelings of worthlessness
  8. Unexplained aches and pains
  9. Difficulty concentrating, focusing, and lack of energy
  10. Thoughts of suicide or death

The difference between adult and teen depression

  1. Teens are more prone to irritability, hostile behavior, anger, and easily frustrated rather than sadness.
  2. Depressed teens complain about physical ailments, such as, headaches and stomach aches, especially before school or the night before. When taken to the doctor, there is no physical reason for their aches and pain.
  3. Extreme sensitivity to criticism – this can be seen a lot in over-achievers/perfectionist teens. They are vulnerable to criticism and failure.
  4. While adults tend to isolate themselves, teens may keep a few friends, or they may switch friend groups.

If you’re not sure if its typical teen behavior or depression consider how long the symptoms have been going on, how severe they are, and how different your child is acting from their normal self. Hormones and stress can explain the occasional bout of teenage issues, but not continuous and unrelenting happiness.

Signs to watch for suicide

  1. Talking/joking about suicide
  2. Saying things like: I wish I was dead, I would be better off dead, I wish I could disappear forever or there is no way out.
  3. Speaking positively about death or romanticizing about it. Example: If I died, people would love me more.
  4. Writing stories/poems about death and/or suicide.
  5. Giving away prized possessions.
  6. Saying goodbye to family and friends as if it was the last time, they would see you.
  7. Seeking out weapons, pills, knives or other ways to kill themselves. Also, searching the internet on ways to kill themselves.

Ways to talk to a depressed teen

  1. Focus on being an empathetic listener – resist the urge to criticize or judge. Let your teen know you are there for them. Be supportive and unconditional.
  2. Be gentle and persistent – don’t give up if they shut you out at first. It’s a tough topic to talk about, but very important not to give up.
  3. Acknowledge their feelings – don’t tell them their feelings aren’t valid. Don’t say, “Things aren’t so bad.”
  4. Trust your instincts – if your child says nothing is wrong, but you feel differently, go with your gut. Talk to a third party if necessary, like a school counselor, coach or teacher.
  5. Get outside help – LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), Clinical Psychologist or a Psychiatrist.

Signs of Anxiety in Teens

All teens feel anxious on occasion; that is normal and to be expected. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. We can see anxiety appear for teens when taking a test at school, speaking in public, meeting new people, going on dates, competitions, etc.

Anxiety/stress can be a good thing sometimes, we call this “positive stress.” This stress/anxiety can make you try harder to do well. It can be a motivator to be your best. At other times, anxiety can be harmful; especially, if its excessive and irrational, and prevents you from being able to focus or function in a situation.

Signs of excess anxiety in teens

  1. Feelings of anxiousness, worry, and fear for no reason at all. Normally, teens feel anxious for a specific reason like meeting new people or public peaking. But if there is no reason for the feelings, their anxiety levels may be too high.
  2. They worry too much about everyday events and activities. Some worry is normal; but if they’re constantly worrying, and it feels like you can’t shut off the anxiety, then their anxiety levels may be too high.
  3. They continually check whether they did something right. Its okay to check it once, but to continually check it is a sign of way too much anxiety.
  4. They are so nervous and panicky they’re unable to function at specific situations.
  5. Teens can have panic attacks. Signs of panic attacks: Racing heart, tightness in chest, tense muscles, problems swallowing, dizzy, nausea.
  6. Some emotional signs are: Feeling edgy or shaky, irritability, difficulty concentrating and focusing, restlessness, and unexplained outburst.
  7. Avoiding social interactions with friends and isolation
  8. Physical changes – Stomach problems, trouble sleeping, excessive fatigue, unexplained aches and pains, frequent headaches
  9. Kids/teens can feel nervous about camp, its normal – it’s a transition/change. Expect some kids to handle the anxiety better than others, but it is normal.
  10. Behaviors caused from anxiety – Skin picking, pulling out of hair, biting nails/cuticles, and avoidance of people or activities due to fear, tension, mental health, mood, and social media

Ways to deal with anxiety

  1. Telling the child everything will be fine doesn’t work. Their emotions have taken over. It’s hard for a child to think clearly or logically during a very anxious time instead try these things:
      • Have the child pause and take a few deep breaths or just sit and calm down. Deep breathing will help reverse the nervous system response. Try the 1-2-3 technique.
      • Empathize with the child – it lets the child know you care and understand.
      • Once the child calms down, then you can problem solve.
  1. Mindfulness activities
      • Pay it forward exercise – have kids do a random act of kindness each day. They can write a thank you to another camper, staff, friend or family member.
      • Gratitude exercise – have each child talk about one thing they are grateful for.
      • Guided meditations using technology – have each kid go on YouTube and pick a guided meditation to listen to. Headphones are needed.
      • For younger kids, teach deep breathing by using bubbles or pinwheels.
      • Mindful nature hike – go for a walk and have each camper notice the sounds, colors, smells.
      • Have the campers jump or skip for a minute, then have them sit and put their hand over their heart, close their eyes and pay attention to the heartbeat.
      • Muscle tension exercise – have them lay down and tighten all their muscles, hold and release. This will release the tension/stress physically.
      • Get coloring books for everyone and just have them do it for 15 minutes, it helps to relieve stress.
      • To change mood – have child listen to some of their favorite music or they can do a favorite time visualization. They can take a few minutes, close their eyes and visualize a favorite time in their life, really go back to that place in time.
  1. Let the child know that worry is normal. It lets us know something is wrong. It can also protect us. Let them know everyone has some anxiety from time to time.
  2. Don’t ignore their anxiety and fears. It will not help them; it might make them feel worse, and they will be less likely to come to you for help.
  3. Talk through their worries. Ask them:
      • What thoughts are they having?
      • Ask them if this thought is true? A lot of times worries aren’t based on reality. Remind them, feelings are not facts.
      • Challenge the thought – if it’s not true, what is true?
      • If it is true, have them go to the worst-case scenario, what if it does happen? How do I handle it? Who do I talk to? What can I do to feel better? What would I tell a friend in the same situation?
  1. Ask the parent or the child – what self-soothes them? Is it deep breathing, talking it out, going for a walk, etc.
  2. Remove their social media time – it causes FOMO. It’s better for them to be involved in the activities and be in the moment. Anxiety is either fear of the past or the future when they are in the moment thinking about their happiest time.
  3. Talk with parents about the child’s fear before camp starts. Remind parents not to talk negatively about camp experiences.
  4. Staff need to show they care and build trust by not insulting kids in front of other peers, listening without judgement, and being an active and empathetic listener.

I hope this article gives you insight into what to look for in your teens, as it relates to, anxiety and depression. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me for more information.

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** Featured photo by Dương Nhân from Pexels