How to Help a Depressed Teenager

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 04, 2022
5 min read

It can be hard to be a teenager, and it can be even harder when it comes to helping teens. 

While it’s normal to experience bouts of sadness, moodiness, or grumpiness, teenagers who experience hopelessness may have depression. Don’t discount your teen’s angst for moodiness. Depression is prevalent even in adolescence with one out of every five teenagers having depression.

There are different types of depression, but all are considered mood disorders. To have your child diagnosed with depression, symptoms must be observed for two weeks. Most depressive disorders will affect your child’s life and how they think and feel, and the motivation they have to complete daily activities, including eating, sleeping, and school work. 

As a parent, you may be wondering about teen depression causes. Many depressive disorders are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, but a few can also be caused by specific situations or environments. Additionally, genes, hormones, and life events can all contribute to a teen’s depression.

Common depressive disorders that might be affecting your teenager include: 

  • Major depression: Major depression is a common depressive disorder characterized by persistent depression symptoms for a minimum of two weeks, affecting the ability to perform daily functions and activities.
  • Manic depression: Teenagers who experience manic depression, or bipolar disorder, are prone to experiencing depressive episodes that include the usual symptoms of indifference and hopelessness, but will also experience highs or mania in which they have elevated moods and increased activity levels.
  • Perinatal depression: Perinatal depressive disorder occurs with pregnancy or after birth. While this is more common in adult parents, teenage parents can experience this type of depression, too.
  • Persistent depressive disorder: Persistent depressive disorder lasts for at least two years, but often lasts much longer. Symptoms are usually milder than other depressive disorders.
  • Seasonal depression: Seasonal depression occurs during changing seasons, typically in the fall and winter months, and comes and goes when seasons change.

Why do teens get depressed? How can you tell when they are? Understanding your teenager’s depression will help you approach them more effectively. 

When it comes to sadness vs. depression, some parents are confused. What is the difference between the two? In teens, depression usually presents itself as a long-lasting bad mood or a deep sadness. 

Teen depression symptoms can also show themselves as: 

  • A negative outlook 
  • Low energy
  • Disinterest in things they once enjoyed
  • Lack of enjoyment and effort
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Changes in eating habits 
  • Poor performance at school or work 
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Engaging in risky or harmful behavior
  • Suicidal ideation, or thoughts of suicide

It can be intimidating to approach your teenager, especially regarding their feelings. Teenagers aren’t known to be the most open and forthcoming with their thoughts and feelings, especially when it comes to talking to their parents. The outcome can vary from family to family. Some teenagers feel close enough to their parents that they may be able to open up easily, while others will struggle to open up. 

So, the question is how to talk to teenagers about depression. There are some steps you can take when discussing depression with your teenager. 

Be patient. The most important step to take when discussing depression with a teenager is to be patient with them. Don’t get angry or upset as this can push your teenager further away and make them not want to open up to you. Instead, be patient and understanding, and let them come to you when they're ready. 

Listen to Them. Teenagers typically don’t like confrontation, or to be asked personal questions. Instead of approaching them with a lot of questions, sit back and listen. Wait for them to come to you, and when they do, listen. 

This approach leaves children feeling unpressured, and can create an atmosphere where they feel more comfortable opening up to their parents.

Give Them Validation. As parents, you may want to solve your teenager’s issues yourself. Sometimes, you may even downplay their emotions and feelings. Instead of downplaying their feelings, validate them. Offer them words of encouragement. If they’re telling you about something that distresses them, sympathize and tell them that you understand. 

Additionally, don’t try and dictate their feelings. Remember, they are entitled to feel how they feel and what might not be a big deal to you, might be the opposite for them. 

Be Supportive. Even if you already have a decent relationship with your child, it never hurts to strengthen that relationship, and that’s what being supportive aims to accomplish. A good way to show support is to put yourself in your teen’s shoes. Show understanding, sympathy, and empathy. 

It’s easy to feel frustrated when you feel your teen isn't doing anything to change themselves or their outlook. While you’re entitled to your feelings about the situation, instead of showing frustration at the situation, be supportive of their trials and tribulations. Remember, depression can make daily activities difficult to perform. Seeing your child slack off on their chores or school work is likely not because they’re lazy, but because they have something else going on that they’re having a hard time with, such as depression. 

Encourage Treatment. If your teen has depression you may be wondering if they should see a doctor. 

Therapy is often stigmatized, even when teenagers are involved. If you want your teenager to seek treatment in the form of therapy, it’s best to be patient when bringing up the idea. Some teens will be receptive to going to therapy and some won’t. As a parent, it’s important that you be patient and gently encourage them to seek treatment. If your teen wants nothing to do with the idea, don’t push it. Wait for them to decide to seek treatment on their own. In the meantime, continue to be supportive.

When it comes to teen depression treatment, there are several treatments your teen can engage in, including: 

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) 
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT) 
  • Attachment-based family therapy (ABFT)

The therapy your teen’s therapist recommends will depend on their specific symptoms and depressive disorder. Most are talk-based therapies and each aim at treating different parts of depression. Therapists may use one, two, or even more of these therapies in treating your teen. 

Your teen’s therapist will come up with a unique plan to treat your child, typically after an initial consultation and evaluation. Medication may also be prescribed to help your teen’s depressive symptoms.