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Is It Teen Heartbreak or Depression?

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One of the most difficult things to endure as a parent is watching your teen suffer from a broken heart. It’s painful to see them sad, and you want to support them as best you can. And yet, you also know that it’s temporary, and that there are better things on the horizon for your teen. Therefore, as adults, we can too easily dismiss the behaviors associated with teen heartbreak as overdramatic. 

However, parents need to remain vigilant to make sure that a teen’s broken heart doesn’t progress into something more serious. Research shows that a relationship breakup is a significant risk factor for suicide attemptsself-harm, and major depression. So it’s important to be able to recognize the difference between signs of teen heartbreak and symptoms of clinical depression.

Mending a Teen’s Broken Heart

Most people endure a broken heart at least once in their lifetime. The loss of a romantic relationship or an unrequited love can be one of the more painful experiences in life. That’s particularly true if it was the teen’s first romantic connection. Losing a close friend or a friend group can be heartbreaking as well. When you factor in the turbulence that comes with the changes in the adolescent brain and hormones, these losses can feel like the end of the world to a teen. 

Depending on their temperament and the circumstances of the incident itself, a teen’s heartbreak can last hours, days, weeks, or longer. Validating their experience and being willing to talk about it, without being intrusive or judgmental, can help. But if a teen’s broken heart doesn’t seem to be healing, there may be something more serious going on, such as depression. Therefore, it is essential that parents understand the difference between teen depression and a broken heart.

Typical Signs of Teen Heartbreak

Teens need the space and time to grieve a lost relationship or friendship. A healthy grieving process can help teens develop resilience. Even if their reactions seem disproportionate to the length or intensity of the relationship itself, parents need to be patient and let them work through their emotions. 

Every individual’s response to loss and heartbreak differs in duration and depth. However, some of the typical responses to a teen broken heart include:

These symptoms are a natural part of the grieving process and should lessen with time. Again, that time frame is different for every teen. Well-meaning loved ones should not try to pressure them into “snapping out of it” or “getting over it.”

teen heartbreak

Can Teen Heartbreak Cause Situational Depression?

The term situational depression refers to depression that stems from a particular event or circumstance in one’s life. Teens who experience significant life changes, including having their heart broken, are at risk for situational depression. Unlike major depression, which may need to be monitored and treated for years or even a lifetime, situational depression is short term. Hence, it typically passes once the situation changes, and usually lasts for less than six months.

However, situational depression as a result of teen heartbreak can progress into another form of depression if untreated. Moreover, the symptoms of situational depression are the same as for other forms of depression, and include a risk of suicide. Thus, teens with situational depression should receive support from a mental healthcare professional.

What Are the Signs of Depression?

The sadness and hopelessness that a teen experiences after a heartbreak can sometimes look like depression, and vice versa. However, there are very important differences between the two. With teen depression, some symptoms may be more intense or severe. In addition, clinical depression includes other symptoms that aren’t usually part of teen heartbreak:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of motivation
  • Withdrawal from friends or social activities
  • Sense of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Excessive worrying or anxiety
  • Fatigue and hypersomnia (sleeping too much)
  • Changes in weight or eating habits
  • Unexplained physical complaints, such as stomachaches or headaches
  • Substance use or abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

When Treatment Is Necessary 

When a teen exhibits five or more of these symptoms, and symptoms last for more than two weeks, they are likely experiencing depression rather than the signs of a broken heart. In these cases, it is crucial for parents and caregivers to intervene. Families should not wait to take action until a child expresses suicidal thoughts or makes an attempt.

At Newport Academy, treatment for depression helps teens strengthen their self-confidence, heal trauma, and build relationship skills. We support teens to recognize what they’ve learned from their past experiences, and use those experiences to grow and to understand themselves better. 

Adolescence is a pivotal stage of life, and teens are particularly vulnerable to mental health challenges. That’s why it’s so important to help them get on the path to healing and thriving as quickly as possible. Contact us today to learn more about our specialized treatment for adolescents.


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