We all have images in our head of what a depressed teen looks like: sad, withdrawn, crying, isolated in their room, sleeping more, eating more or less than usual. Generally, this image is of a teenage girl. But depression is not something that just strikes girls. Teenage boys are at risk of developing depression too, but they are often overlooked. As a culture, we are conditioned to view boys as tough, competitive, and stoic. Boys are very well aware of this and often try to hide any expression of emotion that does not fit with this stereotype, making it even harder to recognize when they are hurting. Here are five signs that a boy in your life may be struggling with depression.


Increased anger or agitation

A sudden increase in anger, lowered frustration tolerance, or increased agitation may be a sign of depression: picking fights with siblings, blowing up when something doesn’t go his way, arguing with you more than usual. Anger is one of the socially acceptable displays of emotion for boys and men in our society, but I believe that anger is actually a “secondary emotion,” meaning it is a mask for another feeling that a person would rather not, or cannot, express. What is underneath the anger? Sadness, disappointment, loneliness? It can be helpful to review the things that seem to trigger his anger to see if there is any common thread that may be pointing to what is going on beneath the surface.


Difficulty concentrating

For boys who previously did not struggle with maintaining concentration and attention, increased difficulty concentrating may be a sign that something is troubling them. He may be getting in trouble at school, or you may be noticing it at home. He seems to be distracted, can’t stay on task, or loses his place while reading or doing homework. He may be distracted by internal negative self-talk, or maybe he’s unusually tired. These can impact concentration and attention. If he seems to be daydreaming, ask him what he’s thinking about or if there’s something he’d like to talk about. The answer may very well be no, but he at least knows you’re noticing and are available.


Any unusual changes in behavior

I realize this seems pretty broad, but the reality is that every person shows signs of difficulty in different ways. One universal thing to look for is any sudden change that doesn’t fit with his personality. This could look like your usually outgoing son suddenly being withdrawn, or it could look like your son who is usually loathe to do any chores around the house suddenly being overly helpful. Things that just don’t sit right based on what you know about his usual personality and behavior always deserve a closer look.


If you think your teen may be depressed or struggling, please reach out to me today and I’d be happy to discuss it further. Parenting is challenging and it’s often helpful to have additional support. I look forward to speaking with you.

-Carolyn Wagner, MA LPC


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Carolyn Wagner, MA, LPC is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in maternal mental health, trauma/PTSD, and self-injury in teens. She sees adults and adolescents with a wide variety of needs including anxiety, depression, and body image concerns.

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