How Would You Help a Depressed Teen?

WebMD community members give advice to a worried father.

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 12, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

When a worried father asked for advice about his son, who appeared to be depressed, a number of WebMD community members had advice. WebMD also asked child development expert David Elkind, PhD, for his opinion.

Q. My 15-year-old son's friend recently killed himself, and my son is showing signs of depression. He won't talk to us. Does anyone have any advice to get a child to agree to see a therapist?-teenagerdad

Answer #1: I'm a teen and have lost three friends in the last year. There was a time when I refused to go into therapy because I didn't want to talk to a complete stranger. Eventually I saw the school social worker and my guidance counselor. Since they knew the situation, it made taking the first step toward getting help easier. Let your son know that things will get better, as awful as it seems now.-srgrl08

Answer #2: When the same thing happened to my daughter, I didn't pressure her. I just supported her. I went to the funeral with her, took her friends with us, and made myself available to her and her friends for whatever meetings they needed together. Maybe your son needs to have that silent support along his journey.-Cindy0516

Answer #3: Be sure to provide an open and nonjudgmental environment for him, otherwise he will turn against you. You also may want to speak with a therapist who specializes in grief counseling for advice.-FargoLIT

Elkind's Advice

I don't think you need to rush to a therapist yet. Your son may just feel down because he thinks he's to blame -- a normal, human reaction. Ask him, and if that's true, you can say, "We think we should have seen the signs and gotten him help, but it's really hard to know what's going on in someone else's head. We can't blame ourselves for not seeing what's not easily visible." If your son has been a happy, healthy teenager up to this point, it's unlikely he's developed severe emotional problems. But move to counseling if his behavior toward his friends and family -- and even pets -- changes, as well as if his sleeping and eating habits become abnormal. And if he starts talking about wanting to commit suicide, get him to a doctor immediately.

Want to get more practical advice from parents of teens? Log on to our Parenting Pre-Teens and Teenagers community board.

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David Elkind, PhD, professor emeritus, department of child development, Tufts University.

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