Depression: Normal Adolescent Behavior

The Herberts took their seventeen-year-old daughter, Kathrine, to see Terri, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who specialized in working with teens and depression.

“She’s sleeping way too much, isn’t eating, isn’t interested in things she always enjoys doing, and is sad and lethargic all the time,” the parents told Terri. “There’s a history of depression on both sides of the family, and we’re worried that Kathrine may be depressed.”

After the initial interview, Terri asked the Herberts when Kathrine had last had a medical checkup. She encouraged them to make an appointment with her primary care physician to make sure nothing medically was going on with her.

After the doctor appointment, Kathrine’s mom left a voice mail for Terri. With relief in her voice, the mom said, “Kathrine isn’t clinically depressed; she has mononucleosis.”


There can be any number of issues that at first glance have similar symptoms to that of clinical depression. It was Terri’s professional training and years of experience that kept her from jumping to a hasty conclusion and helped her steer the Herberts in the direction of their physician. The Herberts did the right thing by noticing Kathrine’s symptoms. But especially with teenagers, it’s not always easy for us to notice what’s normal behavior and what’s not.

Here’s at least a starter list of what’s normal (whether you call it moody or stressed, it’s all within the normal range of behavior). Comparing these behaviors to the signs of depression on page 118 can give you a basic understanding of the difference between normal and abnormal.

Normal Adolescent Behavior

  • A day or even several days of feeling down, especially when coupled with a significant event (things your child would consider big deals)
  • Typical teenage irritability (annoyed by parents, siblings, schoolwork, etc.)
  • Prioritizing activities in a healthy manner, even if that means dropping out of some of them
  • Skipping periodic meals or occasional overeating
  • Naps several days of the week, staying up later than is beneficial (and still able to function normally)
  • Occasional “off” days, restless after sitting in classes all day, overwhelmed by big decisions
  • Some sleepiness, lack of energy, especially if not getting enough sleep
  • Expressed frustrations, questioning self-worth (especially after a big-deal event)
  • Questions about death or the meaning of life

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