For Teens

What is Depression?

Everyone has good days and bad days, ups and downs. School, parents and relationships can be confusing and frustrating. Things can be great one minute, awful the next. This can feel overwhelming. Everyday sadness can be caused by a loss or a major life change, such as the death of someone you care about, a break-up of a relationship, or the divorce of your parents. But if this unhappiness lasts for more than two weeks and starts to interfere with your life, it might be something more serious.
When people talk about feeling “depressed,” they might mean they’re having a bad day, or they might be talking about clinical depression. The difference between having a bad day and clinical depression is:

  • How intense the mood is: Depression is more intense than a bad mood.
  • How long it lasts: A bad mood is usually gone in a few days, but clinical depression lasts two weeks or longer.
  • How much it interferes with your life: A bad mood does not keep you from going to school or spending time with friends. Depression can keep you from doing these things, and may even make it difficult to get out of bed.

Learn more about depression.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

People who have bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, usually experience periods of mania, or intense “highs” of energy, (including any or all of the symptoms in the second list above) followed by periods of depression. Symptoms of bipolar disorder, like symptoms of depression, can be different for different people. It’s important to tell your doctor all of the symptoms you are having, or have experienced in the past, in order for your doctor to make an accurate diagnosis. Often, people with bipolar disorder are misdiagnosed with depression because they don’t report their symptoms of mania. Symptoms of mania can feel really good for a while, especially if they happen right after you’ve been feeling depressed. But they can also lead to serious or even life-threatening problems if they cause you to do things that are reckless or impulsive.

Learn more about bipolar disorder.


If you think you may be experiencing depression or bipolar disorder, a good place to start is DBSA's Screening Center. Here you can take a short survey which can help identify any concerns. These screeners should never be used as a substitution for a professional's diagnosis. Regardless of the results of a screen, if you have any concerns, see your doctor or mental health professional. You may also wish to print your results and bring them with you to a doctor's appointment. 

What if I’m Having Suicidal Thoughts?

The feelings that cause a person to think about suicide are caused by the person’s illness. Suicide is a permanent solution to a problem that is temporary. Don’t be afraid to talk about these feelings. They are real, not a sign of weakness. With the right help, you can begin to feel better. Some things you can do if you’re thinking about suicide:

  • Tell someone right away.
  • Develop a plan to make sure you’re not by yourself, with the help of your family and/or friends.
  • Don’t use alcohol and/or drugs.
  • Ask your parents to lock up any guns or other dangerous items in the house. Throw away all medications you are no longer taking.
  • Depression and bipolar disorder can cause your mind to focus only on the bad things. Remember that this is part of your illness—it’s not who you are and it’s not the way things will always be.
  • Have regularly scheduled health care appointments and keep them.
  • Keep pictures of your favorite people with you or where you can see them at all times to remind you they are there for you.
  • If you can, get involved in things you like to do. If you can’t, then just spend time with family and friends, even if you are only doing something quiet like watching TV, going to a movie or reading with someone else in the room.
  • If you drive, be sure a friend or family member knows to take away your car keys when you are feeling suicidal.
  • Talk about how you’re feeling. At a DBSA support group, you can meet other people who may have been through some of the same things you have.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to be connected with your local crisis hotline.

Some people also find it helpful to develop a plan for life. This plan lists warning signs you should watch for and actions to take if you feel that you're slipping into suicidal thoughts. Here are some things you may want to include in your plan for life. View a sample plan for life.

Treatment Options

There are many safe, effective treatments for both depression and bipolar disorder. People with these illnesses usually are helped by four things: medication, counseling (talk therapy), wellness strategies and support from others.

Although the moral support of friends and family can be very helpful, talking with them is often not enough to treat depression or bipolar disorder. It’s important to see a doctor who can make a diagnosis and help you put together a treatment plan that’s right for you. Your doctor may suggest psychotherapy or “talk therapy,” which can sometimes treat depression by itself. A good therapist can help you deal with the feelings you are having and help you find your way out of depression and develop effective coping skills. Your doctor may also prescribe medication.

There are many different medications that are available. Sometimes people need to try several before they find one or a combination that works for them. You can learn more about many of the medications on this page

Many people have found using different wellness tools to be especially effective in finding relief from their symptoms. These strategies can range from exercise, to meditation, to tracking triggers. Learn more about wellness tools.

Building a support system is also very important. People in your support system may include your parents or other relatives, close friends, a school counselor or perhaps even members of a local DBSA support group. Your support system should be made up of people who you trust and feel you can lean on when needed. Try to talk with your supporters when you’re not experiencing an episode to help them understand the best ways to help you. Be as specific as possible.  You can check for a DBSA chapter in your area by visiting our support group locator. Some of our chapters offer special support groups for teens. (link to

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I'm Living Proof

Being diagnosed with a mood disorder as a teen can feel like a life sentence. Without success stories, it’s easy to think you will always feel this way and you won’t be able to have the life you had hoped for. Perhaps you remember this feeling when you were first diagnosed. Did life get better for you? Share your journey with teens experiencing mood disorders to give other’s hope because—you’re living proof! Find inspiration or submit your own story.