Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in America. 1 in every 5 young adults struggle with symptoms that can severely interfere or limit every aspect of a person’s life, from their work and relationships to their overall physical health. Not sure if your young adult is experiencing depression? We cover 9 warning signs that signal that depression is present, what to do, and how you can help your child cope.

9 Signs of Depression in Young Adults

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Depression can affect anyone at any time in their life. Dealing with depression can be especially difficult for young adults if it descends when they are trying to figure out who they are and what they want in life. Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in America, and there is no shame in seeking treatment and talking about your feelings. You are not alone. The National Institute of Health estimates that nearly 8.4 percent of Americans suffer from depression. If you think you or someone you know is suffering from depression, it’s important to get help.

While not everyone experiences depression the same way, there are some common signs of depression in young adults that may indicate that this condition is present.

What Everyone Needs To Know About Depression

Depression is a serious mental illness that should not be taken lightly. It can negatively affect every aspect of a person’s life, from their work and relationships to their overall physical health.

Because depression can severely interfere or limit one’s ability to execute basic day-to-day tasks, identifying depression in your young adult is crucial and is the first step on the road to recovery before other problems take root in your young adult’s life. In fact, many young adults with depression often rely on parents, teachers, or caregivers to recognize their depression first and to then provide help in finding them necessary treatment.

Let’s explore some of the most common signs of depression and provide information about what you need to know if you or someone you know is suffering from this illness.

9 Signs Of Depression In Young Adults

The definition of depression comes from the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). If your loved one is experiencing a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities for at least two weeks, and is experiencing one or more of the 9 signs of depression outlined below, your loved one may be experiencing textbook depression. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 4.1 million young adults, ages 12 to 17 suffer from depression. That’s roughly 17 percent, or 1 out of every 5 young adults. Though depression is slightly more common among women, some researchers speculate the statistic is simply because men are less likely to seek help and their symptoms are more manifested in anger than in sadness. 

Signs and symptoms of young adult depression do not always look the same, nor are they the stereotypical sadness one associates with depression. It’s not always easy to tell whether you’re just feeling down, or if you might be experiencing depression. Everyone experiences tough times and has low moments, but when does normal sadness cross the line into something more serious? 

Mistakes Young Adults Make In The College Process

If you’re wondering whether or not you might be depressed (or a loved one), it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis from a professional. Luckily, there are some common signs of depression in young adults that can help give you a better idea.

Sadness Or Hopelessness

This may look like a young adult that is sleeping too long or during odd times of the day, or taking a long time to complete tasks that they normally did without any problems. A teen who is depressed may feel sad and hopeless because they might see themselves as failures who can’t do anything right. They start to think that they have nothing to contribute to the world around them and feel rudderless and without purpose.

Irritability Or Anger

For some, irritability, rage, and aggression are the warning signs of depression. This looks like a teen who is always on edge coupled with emotional, angry explosions at the tiniest provocation. There will be a mismatch between the magnitude of the event that triggers the anger and the amount of anger it causes. For example, a young adult might get angry about what is served for dinner and instead of expressing dislike in mild terms, will instead throw his plate down and walk away yelling that he hates everyone and everything. Or they may be preoccupied with song lyrics that suggest that life is meaningless which causes them extreme frustration and discontent.

Frequent Crying

For many young adults that suffer from depression, life seems too overwhelming and difficult to navigate on a day-to-day basis. These young adults will burst into tears over a small mishap and will cry for long periods of time without really knowing why. It’s normal to be sad sometimes, but frequent and prolonged crying is a sign that something is not right. 

Withdrawal From Friends And Loved Ones

Depression can make a teenager want to disengage from the world. It may require an extreme amount of effort to engage with friends and family when a teenerage is locked in the world of depression, so much so that they begin to avoid contact, preferring to be on their own or sleeping to avoid facing a life that seems unbearably painful for them.

Changes In Sleeping And Eating Habits

Young adults that suffer from depression may lose their appetites and fail to gain weight as expected. They may also have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep or trouble getting up in the morning. You may find your teen spending too much time on screens late at night, or participating in other passive activities that consume information but don’t require engagement. This is a classic symptom of an uneasy mind using sleep to escape their thoughts and feelings or using passive media to completely disengage with the world around them.

Loss Of Interest In Usual Activities

Along with changes in sleeping and eating habits, your young adult may lose interest in the very things that he or she used to love doing. They may not find joy in soccer practice or spending time drawing, and you will find them avoiding these activities. Your young adult may complain of boredom although there are plenty of activities to do and people to do them with.

Fatigue Or Lethargy

Your teen might seem like he or she has very little motivation to perform the basic functions of life, such as eating or showering. They may complain of physical pain, like headaches or stomach aches. 

Difficulty Focusing

Depression may be present if there is an abrupt change in school performance or attendance. A drastic drop in grades and attendance may indicate that your child is feeling overwhelmed and is not sure how to deal with those feelings of inadequacy. They may also be extra fidgety, or unable to sit still for long periods of time, or be unable to complete normal tasks that require little to no energy. They may pace back and forth and have a hard time following through on directions or concentrating.

Thoughts Of Suicide Or Death

If your young adult is preoccupied with death and talks or writes about death frequently, this is a warning sign that parents should pay direct attention to. Your child may journal about death or listen to songs about death over and over again. They may begin to give away their favorite belongings and say things like, “You’d be better off without me.” This sign is especially concerning, and great steps should be taken to get help ASAP. There are many crisis hot lines that will coach parents on how to work with a child who is having reocurring thoughts about suicide or death. 

Distinguishing Depression In Young Adults

For many parents of depressed young adults, it can be hard to distinguish between what is part of growing up and what classifies as young adult depression. Take time to consider how long the symptoms above have been present, at how severe of a level, and how different the young adult is from his or her usual behavior. Long-lasting changes in mood, behavior or personality can be warning signs of depression.

As mentioned above, irritability, rage, and aggression can be more common warning signs in depressed teens than depressed adults. While depressed adults often exhibit sadness, irritability is the more commonly displayed symptom in depressed young adults. They may be prone to hostile and angry outbursts as opposed to listlessness. Depressed young adults also often complain of physical problems like headaches or stomach aches that are not explained by a physical exam. In addition, these individuals often are very vulnerable to criticism and rejection, especially for young adults characterized as ‘over-achievers.’

While these symptoms can be helpful in identifying depression, “the biggest problem is that depression isn’t visible like chickenpox. It’s easy to hide and can show up out of the blue. One day everything can be wonderful and perfect and the next day could be a dark one” (Starr, 2012). If you do not see the signs but suspect depression, seek help.

How Can You Help A Young Adult With Depression

In today’s world, it seems like everyone is struggling with something – whether it’s anxiety, depression, or just plain old stress. And for young adults, these struggles can feel even more intense and scary. If you know someone who is struggling with depression, here are four ways that you can help them out: 

  1. Listen without judgment. It’s important that throughout the diagnosis and treatment process that you keep the lines of communication open. Avoid being critical–your young adult might be ashamed or embarrassed by how they feel, and criticism will build a wall rather than open lines of communication. Open lines of communication are more readily achieved when a parent or caregiver practices active listening. In this process, you do not offer advice or try to change your child’s opinions. You just listen, validate their feelings, but don’t presume to know how they feel. Let them know that what they are experiencing is difficult, but that you are with them every step of the way. 
  1. Encourage them to seek professional help if needed. Before doing anything else, it is important to consult with a mental health professional to identify whether depression is in fact the issue. If you suspect depression may be behind the attitude and behavioral changes in your youth, make an appointment sooner rather than later. Watch for warning signs, such as the ones listed above, and take careful notes about specific symptoms, how long they have been present and how they are affecting daily life. A qualified mental health professional can be a wonderful partner for both you and your child. 
  1. Offer practical support. If your young adult is struggling with basics like making appointments or cooking meals, it can be tempting to jump in and do it for them, but that’s a short term fix and won’t do them any good in the long run. Instead of doing it for them, collaborate with them and talk through the steps so these tasks feel less overwhelming for your child to tackle on their own. 
  1. Be there for them emotionally. Always, always, always find ways to express your love. Whether this be taking the time to listen, saying I love you, or looking for ways to communicate your love through simple actions like a quick hug or a pat on the back. Physical touch grounds us to our surroundings and creates positive emotions. You teen might feel like they are unworthy of love. Let them know in no uncertain terms that their worth is not based on their depression. Let them know that you care about them and are rooting for their recovery!

How Can Wilderness Adventure Therapy Help Young Adults With Depression?

When talk therapy and medication are not enough, where do you turn? Depression can be scary and the road forward uncertain. If you have never heard of Wilderness Adventure Therapy, and you have a young adult struggling with the weight of depression, this may be the answer and hope you’ve been searching for. Wilderness adventure therapy is a solution that creates LASTING change in your young adult after just 11-12 short weeks.

Whether young adults take a gap year, a gap semester, or complete the program in the summer months, this productive solution can help young adults overcome mental health disorders by incorporating a combination of adventure activities, community service, cultural immersion, AND talk therapy. Talk therapy helps. That’s a given. But what we offer is a holistic approach to mental health that goes way beyond just sitting in a room discussing feelings, as valuable as that might be.

If you are seeing signs of depression, and are worried about what to do, we can help. Start by downloading our white paper where you can learn more about our program. Pure Life Adventure Program can help your young adult develop crucial skills and re-engage in life. Don’t let depression get the upper hand. Take action today, and you’ll be one step closer to realizing the life you know your young adult can have.


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