Symptoms of Depression & Bipolar Disorder


Unfortunately, depression is common in teens.  Fortunately, depression is treatable.  Early diagnosis and treatment create the best outcome.  In most cases, the depression that so often precedes suicide is both recognizable and treatable.  If someone has at least five of the following symptoms, lasting for at least two weeks, help should be sought from a mental health professional:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in ordinary activities
  • Declining school performance
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism, helplessness
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, shame
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, and feeling “slowed down”
  • Restlessness and irritability, increased anger/fighting
  • Decreased ability to concentrate, remember, or make decisions
  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomach disorders that do not respond to treatment and for which no physical cause can be found
  • Increased alcohol and/or drug use
  • Thoughts of death, suicide, or wishes to be dead


The symptoms for the depressive episodes that are a part of bipolar disorder are the same as those outlined above for major depression. The signs and symptoms of MANIA, the other end of the “mood swing,” include distinct periods of:

  • Increased energy, activity, restlessness, racing thoughts, and rapid talking
  • Excessive “high” or euphoric feelings
  • Sustained periods of unusual, even bizarre behavior, often with significant risk-taking
  • Extreme irritability and distractibility
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Unrealistic beliefs in one’s abilities and powers
  • Uncharacteristically poor judgment
  • Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications
  • Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior
  • Denial that anything is wrong


  • Observable signs of serious depression:
    • Unrelenting low mood
    • Pessimism
    • Hopelessness
    • Desperation
    • Anxiety, psychic pain and inner tension
    • Withdrawal
    • Sleep problems
  • Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
  • Recent impulsiveness and taking unnecessary risks
  • Threatening suicide or expressing a strong wish to die
  • Making a plan:
    • Giving away prized possessions
    • Unusual visiting or calling friends/loved ones
    • Sudden or impulsive purchase of a firearm
    • Obtaining other means of killing oneself such as poisons or medications
  • Unexpected rage or anger


Mental Illness: 90 percent of adolescent suicide victims have at least one diagnosable psychiatric illness at the time of death, most often depression, substance abuse, and conduct disorder.

Substance Abuse: Substance abuse or dependence is involved in about two thirds of youth suicides.

Firearms: Having a firearm in the home greatly increases the risk of adolescent suicide.

Stress: Suicide may be triggered when the victim has gotten into some sort of trouble or has experienced recent disappointment or rejection. Family disruptions such as discord, domestic violence, separation/divorce, or frequent moves may be a factor.

Previous Attempt: 20 percent to 50 percent of adolescent suicide victims have made a previous suicide attempt.


  • Ask the suicide question: “Are you having thoughts of suicide?”
  • Listen with concern and without passing judgment.
  • Assess the danger.  Does the person have a plan?
  • If the person has a suicide plan, stay with them.  Do not leave the person alone.
  • Does the person have access to the means?
  • Has he/she attempted suicide before?
  • Stay calm.
  • Offer hope that they will not always feel this way.
  • Tell others and get help from a mental health professional.
  • If danger is imminent, call 911.

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