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Violence and Teen Depression

Violence and Teen Depression

The presence of violence among teens is a growing concern, particularly with the frequency of school shootings across America. Whether it is homicide or suicide, an adolescent’s violent behavior is often linked to mental illness. Learn more on Violence and Teen Depression Now!

It is common to see a relationship between anger and depression. An adolescent who has been diagnosed as clinically depressed is likely carrying large amounts of anger. However, that teen (or adult) has cut off, turned off, and dissociated from that anger. This is often true for those who have witnessed violence at home, experienced trauma, or suffered a major loss. For instance, when there is domestic violence at home, a teen might feel incredible anger for having to witness the violence and experience the unpredictability and lack of safety in the home. Eventually that anger is either directed inward, as the case for most females, or directed outward through aggression, which is often the way that males are conditioned to express anger.

The anger or any other intense emotions that are not experienced and held within can often turn into anxiety. It can escalate and brew within, turning into panic attacks or other mental illnesses, such as Attention Deficit Disorder or heightened paranoia. In this way, anger, anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness are all related.

The trouble for most parents is how to distinguish depression or other mental illnesses from the troubles of being a teenager. Many children will display a difference in behavior and mood around the ages of 11 or 12, during their pre-pubescent years. Not knowing what is normal in regards to your child’s mental health can be difficult. However, one thing to note is that a teen might go through ups and downs because that is natural during this stage of life; but when you see that an adolescent is not able to function, either at home, school, or work, then there is certainly cause for concern.

Furthermore, in an article, Adolescent Storm and Stress, Reconsidered, J.J. Arnett identifies three areas of challenge for teens: (1) conflict with parents, (2) mood disruptions, and (3) risk behavior. Arnett points out that another way to recognize depressive symptoms is that the behavioral change lasts for a longer period of time than for a couple weeks. Teens who show symptoms of depression for longer than 3 weeks, who are not doing well in school, who are withdrawn, overly impulsive, and exhibiting disinterest in activities they once enjoyed should be assessed by a mental health professional.

If violence is a potential symptom of a teen with a mental illness or specifically depression, here are the warning signs to look for:

  • History of violent or aggressive behavior.
  • Serious drug or alcohol use.
  • Gang membership or strong desire to be in a gang.
  • Access to or fascination with weapons, especially guns.
  • Threatening others regularly.
  • Trouble controlling feelings like anger.
  • Withdrawal from friends and usual activities.
  • Feeling rejected or alone.
  • Having been a victim of bullying.
  • Poor school performance.
  • History of discipline problems or frequent run-ins with authority.
  • Feeling constantly disrespected.
  • Failing to acknowledge the feelings or rights of others.

Depressed teens don’t always exhibit violence; however, knowing the warning signs of violence and the roots anger and aggression can help parents keep their home and their children safe.

Find more information on teen mental health, bullying and seeking help here.

This post was authored by Kimberly West of Paradigm Malibu. Paradigm Malibu is a treatment program for teen depression, anxiety, substance abuse and any other mental health issues. For the latest news and commentary on issues relating to adolescent mental health, substance abuse and addiction recovery, please visit Paradigm Malibu’s blog.


Arnett, J. J. (1999). Adolescent Storm and Stress, Reconsidered. American Psychologist, 54, 5, 317 326.

Cooperstein, M. Allan. “Violence and Depression in Adolescents.” Violence and Depression in Adolescents. At Health, Aug. 1999. Web. 11 Mar. 2014.

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