Causes of depression in young people

Is your child acting out because of puberty? Or are their symptoms actually a sign of depression? These questions are often not easy to answer. Here’s a summary of the key information.

10.11.2021 Lara Brunner 3 minutes

The most common mental illness among children and young people is depression. This is often the age at which people experience the illness for the first time. Boys and girls are affected by depression at roughly the same rate up to the age of puberty. After that, cases rise in girls, who are then twice as likely to suffer from the illness as boys.

What are the symptoms of depression in young people?

Depression in children and young people is often difficult to identify at first. There are various reasons for this: the illness does not affect everyone in the same way and there is a wide range of possible symptoms. These symptoms are also often mistakenly attributed to puberty instead of depression. In addition, children affected by the illness often display behavioural problems, which means that other problems take centre stage.

Symptoms vary depending on the age of the affected child.

  • Frequent crying
  • Lack of facial expression
  • Irritability
  • Clinginess
  • Lethargy
  • Reluctance to play
  • Sleep problems
  • Eating disorders

  • Joylessness
  • Unhappy facial expression
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Lethargy
  • Lack of interest in physical activity
  • Irritability, up to and including aggressive behaviour
  • Eating disorders
  • Sleep problems

  • Verbal communication of sadness
  • Concentration problems
  • Poor school performance
  • Anxiety
  • Self-criticism
  • Problems with psychomotor development
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sleep problems
  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Self-doubt
  • Concentration problems
  • Apathy
  • Mood swings
  • Performance problems
  • Social withdrawal
  • Psychosomatic problems such as headaches
  • Weight loss
  • Sleep problems or excessive sleepiness
  • Headaches
  • Suicidal thoughts

It is not uncommon for young people to experience other mental illnesses in addition to depression. These may include anxiety disorders, addictive behaviour, eating disorders and obsessive compulsive disorders.

Do you have any questions about depression in young people?

Our health consultation advisors will show you how you can recognise, prevent and treat depression in young people. They will also help you find a recognised therapist. 

What causes depression in young people?

As young people slowly approach adulthood, they face new challenges. Their personality is developing and they have to figure out who they are or who they’d like to be. But their physical development and sexuality are also becoming more important. They start to break away from their parents and become more independent – which means that they gain certain freedoms, but also take on more responsibility. Their academic performance also becomes more relevant. Young people have to start thinking about their choice of studies or careers, and realise that they are entering the serious stage of life. This transformation is stressful and sometimes even overwhelming.


These challenges faced by young people are usually not the sole triggers of depression. There are often other factors involved as well:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Serious and ongoing family problems
  • Parental separation
  • Severe illness or death in the family
  • Dealing with bullying
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Alcohol and drug abuse

How is depression diagnosed in young people?

The same diagnostic criteria apply to children and young people as to adults. However, there are certain typical symptoms that young people often do not exhibit. At the same time, other symptoms are just part of growing up and are not a cause for concern per se. For that reason, the age of the child or teenager must always be taken into account. It is also important to establish whether the symptoms last for an extended period of time or are just temporary. The diagnosis is always made by a doctor or a psychotherapist.

How is depression treated in young people?

If depression in children and young people is left untreated, the illness may become chronic. This also increases the risk of relapse.

As a first step, it is important to explain to the affected child what depression is, in a manner appropriate for their age. This is followed by psychotherapy. The therapist will often involve the family or other caregivers in this process as well. If necessary, they will supplement this psychotherapeutic treatment with medicinal therapy.

How to treat depression

Tips for you as a parent

  • Seek professional help. This is the only way to treat depression in the long term.
  • Let your child know that they can talk to you about their problems at any time. But also show understanding if they don’t want to talk right now.
  • Listen carefully when your child confides in you. Help them to find their own solutions to certain problems.
  • Statements such as “It’ll be fine” or “Just pull yourself together” won’t help and will only put more pressure on your child.
  • Plan a variety of activities and outings, even if your child doesn’t want to do anything right now.
  • Stay positive. Praise your child when they do something well. This will boost their self-esteem and help them to break out of negative thought patterns.
  • If your child expresses suicidal thoughts, contact a medical professional immediately. They will be able to assess whether your child is at serious risk.

Read more

How to recognise mental illness
Psychological problems throw life out of balance. Typical symptoms include depression, anxiety, addiction or odd behaviour.
August 22, 2023 2 minutes

The most common types of depression
There’s not just one kind of depression. Alongside normal depression, there are also other types. You can find out more here.
October 29, 2021 4 minutes


Find out more about current health issues every month and get all the information you need about our attractive offers from all Helsana Group companies * delivered by e-mail to read whenever it suits you. Our newsletter is free of charge and you can sign up here:


Thank you for registering.
You have just received an email with a confirmation link. Please click on this to complete your registration.

Unfortunately an error has occurred.

We did not receive your information. Please try again later.

* The Helsana Group comprises Helsana Insurance Company Ltd, Helsana Supplementary Insurances Ltd and Helsana Accidents Ltd.