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4 Ways to Help Your Depressed Teen

Teenagers are known for being angst-filled and moody. But in some cases, a teen’s persistent negativity may be a sign of a bigger issue. In this article, I’ll explain how parents can help their teens overcome intense feelings of depression.


Ways to Help Your Depressed Teen
Depression is a feeling of sadness, despair, and hopelessness that doesn’t go away. 20% of teens experience depression before reaching adolescence but only 30% of those teens get help. Girls are twice as likely to experience depression. Here are ways to help your depressed teen:


1. Assess what’s going on. Mom and Dad, you see what’s happening first. Your job is to become a student of your teen and find out what’s really going on because depression may look different from teen to teen. Symptoms may include isolation, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, headaches, lack of appetite, and expressions of hopelessness. One of the most telling signs is when your teen isolates in her room for hours, staying away from friends and family, or if she stops participating in things she used to love and starts doing things she used to hate. Some depressed teens become highly irritable or easily angered. If you are seeing symptoms, it’s time to talk to your teen. Lean in and reflect back to your teen what you have observed. Then ask your teen sincere questions, without judgment, in order to find out what’s causing the depression. Don’t be surprised if your teen doesn’t know how to articulate what’s wrong. But keep talking and listening for clues.


2. Make your home a safe place to be vulnerable. In order to have the conversation with your teen about what’s going on, he needs to feel “safe” enough to be vulnerable. This is not the time to teach your teen; he’s not listening anyway. Stop lecturing and start listening. Don’t judge your teen for his behavior. Instead, find out why he’s doing what he’s doing. You want to help, so communicate with compassion and encouragement. Show empathy, share your own struggle, if appropriate, and be a safe place for your teen to talk about his feelings. Keep offering your help in a caring and consistent way.


3. Be willing to make changes in your routine for your teen. Parents have work schedules, household chores, volunteering activities, and more to manage. I get it, but sometimes teens and their needs get lost in the busyness. Take time to assess your family’s schedules and routines. Perhaps there is an element of your routine that is making things worse for your teen. Is your teen overbooked with activities and exhausted? Are you not as available as you’d like because of your schedule? Or is there a school situation that needs to be changed? If you’re not sure, ask your teen! Figure out what changes are needed and which ones you can accommodate to help make a better environment for your teen. Teens go through a lot of changes over a short period of time. Wise parents are flexible and able to adapt to teen’s needs.


4. Seek professional help. Your teen may not want to get help, but they need it. A therapist may be able to help with your child’s depression. Teens need someone to talk to when they are feeling despair. If they won’t talk to you, then get them connected to a mature, caring, adult counselor that your teen may be able to warm up and open up to. Get immediate help, especially if your teen has issues with self-harm, use of drugs, or suicidal tendencies. You may also want to find out if medication can help.


Hey moms and dads … depression is real. Our teens are masters at performing like nothing’s wrong and are careful to hide feelings of imperfection when they feel like they don’t measure up to the images and the messages that bombard their lives through social media. They live in a culture that presents challenges and questions about how they’ve been raised and what they’ve been taught to believe. When teens feel like they don’t have the answers, like they can’t overcome life’s inevitable challenges, or they struggle to be who they were raised to be, it can become a depressing time. That’s when you’ve got to be on your guard to remain connected with your teen to pick up on any signs of depression or hopelessness. Communicate daily. Encourage constantly. Become a student of your teen by asking about their feelings and thoughts and showing more concern for their mental health than their academic and sporting pursuits.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.