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How To Help a Teenager With Depression: A Guide For Parents

Learning that your teenage child is struggling with depression can feel overwhelming. As a parent, your instinct is to help them feel better immediately. But recovery takes time, and pressuring them often backfires. The key is providing compassionate support. You can guide them through the darkness by educating yourself, communicating non-judgmentally, helping them build healthy coping skills, and accessing professional help. This comprehensive guide will arm you with tips to:

  • Recognize symptoms
  • Improve communication
  • Find the right treatment
  • Be a caring support system
  • And take care of yourself, too

You can make a real difference in their recovery journey with patience and understanding.

a parent sitting with daughter speaking about teenage depression

Recognizing the Signs of Teen Depression

Spotting depression in teenagers can be tricky. Their shifting moods, defiance, and angst come with the territory. How can you tell typical teenage growing pains from a genuine mental health issue?

Depression symptoms are more persistent, severe, and impactful than basic moodiness. Watch for:

  • Irritability or anger. Your once-sunny teen snaps at you over minor things or seems constantly in a bad mood.
  • They are withdrawing from friends and family. They lose interest in social activities and isolate themselves in their room.
  • Fatigue and low energy. They sleep or lounge around all day and abandon hobbies they used to enjoy.
  • Sleep and appetite changes. You notice sudden weight gain or loss.
  • Low self-esteem. They make lots of negative, critical statements about themselves and their future.
  • Plummeting grades. Schoolwork suffers as their ability to concentrate drops.
  • Expressing hopelessness. They say things like “I’m such a loser” or “nothing will ever get better.”
  • Thoughts of death or suicide. Any talk of wanting to die warrants immediate professional help.
  • Self-harming behaviours. Cutting, burning, head banging, or physically hurting themselves.

While every teen experiences a blue mood occasionally, depression is unrelenting. The symptoms persist day after day, week after week.

Other signs include:

  • Neglecting personal hygiene and appearance
  • Loss of interest in everything
  • Physical complaints like headaches or body aches
  • Acting out through substance abuse or risky sexual behaviour

Overlap with Other Mental Health Issues

Depression rarely occurs alone in teenagers. Overlapping conditions like anxietyADHD, or eating disorders can make it harder to recognize and treat.

Substance abuse often goes hand-in-hand with teen depression. They may use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. But it only makes symptoms worse.

Trauma from abuse, violence, or family dysfunction can also trigger depressive episodes.

That’s why a comprehensive mental health evaluation is critical. It can identify whether depression is the primary issue or a secondary effect.

The Role of Social Media

Studies link heavy social media use with increased depression in teens. It’s not clear whether social media causes depression or depressed kids just spend more time online.

But there are good reasons to moderate screen time:

  • Passive scrolling can worsen feelings of isolation.
  • Seeing friends having fun without them can breed loneliness.
  • Comparing themselves negatively to others often damages self-image.
  • Less sleep, exercise, and real-world interaction are also depression risk factors.

If your teen’s mood seems to improve after taking a social media break, it’s worth limiting their screen time in the future.

Communicating with a Depressed Teen

When depression hits, teens tend to retreat into isolation. But you can gently coax them back into communication with compassion and patience.

Avoid criticism or judgment. That will only drive them further into their shell. Your goal is to convey complete acceptance.

Let them know you’ve noticed changes in their mood and that you care. Use “I statements” – “I’m worried because you seem unhappy.

Then, ask open-ended questions to get them talking:

  • “What’s been making you feel this way lately?”
  • “I’m here to listen if you want to talk about anything bothering you.”
  • “Can you help me understand what you’re going through?”

Go slowly, and don’t push too hard. They may deny a problem at first.

Keep checking in. Once they start opening up, use active listening skills:

  • Maintain eye contact and give them your full attention.
  • Refrain from interrupting. Allow silences and pauses.
  • Restate what they share in your own words to confirm you understand.
  • Ask follow-up questions to learn more.
  • Avoid trying to “fix” their problems. Just listen.

If they get irritated when you show concern, stay calm. Say you’re sorry they feel that way, and you’ll give them space, but reiterate that you care and are available to talk anytime.

Watch for remarks that dismiss their feelings, like:

  • “You’ll feel better soon, don’t worry!”
  • “Why are you complaining? Your life is great!”
  • “Snap out of it. I felt sad sometimes at your age, too.”

Comments like these invalidate their emotions and make them feel guilty for being depressed.

Do the opposite – validate their feelings with phrases like:

  • “It makes sense you feel sad. This is a tough situation.”
  • “I would feel overwhelmed too if I were in your shoes.”
  • “I know it hurts. I’m here for you.”

If talking with you upsets them, suggest speaking with another trusted adult like a guidance counsellor, teacher, or relative. The key is getting them to open up to someone.

When they do want to talk:

  • Let them steer the conversation. Don’t bombard them with questions.
  • Ask if they have suggestions for improving the situation. Please include them in the solutions.
  • Discuss options like therapy, but don’t force them into anything they aren’t ready for.
  • Remind them you are fully supportive, no matter how they feel or what happens.

With time and consistency, your compassionate communication will help them feel safe confiding in you. Then you can work together to get them the right help.

Encouraging Healthy Coping

Depression often sends teens spiralling into isolation and unhealthy habits. As a parent, you can provide the support and motivation they need to start coping in healthy ways again.

Reconnect socially. Make face time a priority. Chat with them during shared activities like cooking dinner or driving them to school. Schedule regular one-on-one time to talk about anything on their mind.

Encourage socializing with friends who lift their mood. Make your home the hangout spot and relax rules about going out. Remind them that bonding is a natural mood booster.

Get active. Physical activity is a powerful medicine for depression. Motivate your teen to walk the dog, shoot hoops in the driveway, take fitness classes with you, or join a recreational sports league.

Aim for 60 minutes of exercise per day. But start small if needed – even 10 minutes is beneficial. Offer to complete YouTube workout videos together in the living room.

Improve sleep habits. Lack of quality sleep exacerbates depression. Set a regular bedtime and waketime for everyone, not just your teen. Limit electronics use at night and keep phones/devices outside the bedroom.

Melatonin supplements can help regulate their sleep cycle naturally. Or consider weighted blankets and blackout curtains if insomnia is an issue.

Eat nutritious meals. Sugar and processed carbs lead to energy crashes, while protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats provide lasting energy.

Stock up on ingredients for balanced homemade meals. Get your teen involved in preparing and cooking food.

Set reasonable goals. Let depressed teens guide how much they can handle school, chores, and other responsibilities. Offer support like reviewing their assignments or making chore charts together.

When they accomplish something, they emphasize progress, not perfection. Praise their efforts and highlight small wins.

Encourage new pursuits. Trying new activities can help teens regain passion and purpose. Explore their interests and sign them up for art, dance, coding, or music classes.

Ask about causes important to them and help find volunteer opportunities to get involved. Giving back boosts self-worth.

With your support as a partner, not a critic, your teen can develop healthy coping strategies to manage depression symptoms.

Getting Professional Support

While you can provide daily support at home, treatment by a mental health professional is vital for overcoming teen depression. From therapy to medication management, a variety of options are available.

Have an Evaluation

The first step is a comprehensive mental health evaluation with a psychologist or psychiatrist. They will:

  • Diagnose depression and any co-occurring disorders
  • Assess self-harm risk
  • Recommend treatment options
  • Provide referrals to counsellors and programs

At our counselling clinic, we complete thorough psychiatric assessments to guide the treatment process.

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Choose the Right Therapist

The most common treatment for depression is talk therapy. The therapist’s role is to:

  • Teach coping strategies
  • Help change negative thought patterns
  • Provide a judgement-free space to express emotions
  • Offer support during life stressors

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) helps depressed teens challenge pessimistic thinking and develop healthier perspectives.

Interpersonal therapy (IPT) focuses on resolving relationship conflicts that may contribute to depression.

Other proven options include dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) and acceptance commitment therapy (ACT).

Have your teen interview potential therapists to find one they genuinely connect with. That rapport is key to progress.

Our clinic’s clients receive customized treatment plans using evidence-based modalities tailored to their needs.

Consider Medication

If symptoms persist after 8-12 weeks of talk therapy, antidepressant medication may be recommended. This decision should be made with a psychiatrist.

While often helpful, medications have risks like side effects and withdrawal symptoms. They don’t address underlying issues fueling depression either.

That’s why meds should be paired with therapy rather than used alone. Weekly check-ins ensure proper medication management.

Common antidepressant types are:

  • SSRIs – Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro
  • SNRIs – Effexor, Cymbalta
  • Atypical – Wellbutrin, Remeron

Close monitoring is essential, especially during the initial weeks when suicide risk increases temporarily.

Discuss the pros and cons of medication for your teen’s situation with your psychiatrist.

Make Changes If Needed

If current treatment isn’t improving their depression after 6-8 weeks, speak up. Together, you can discuss modifying their plan by:

  • Switching therapists
  • Adjusting medication type or dosage
  • Adding new modalities like art therapy or hypnotherapy
  • Considering intensive programs like residential or partial hospitalization

With compassion and teamwork, you’ll find the proper professional support to guide your teen’s recovery.

Being a Supportive Presence in Their Treatment Journey

Once your teen starts treatment for depression, they need consistency and compassion from you along the way. Your involvement can make all the difference.

Have patience. It takes time to find the right treatment approach. Symptoms may worsen before they improve as your teen starts processing repressed emotions.

Remain steadfastly supportive through ups and downs—express pride in their strength and perseverance in fighting depression.

Stay involved. If your teen is in therapy, ask how you can support their treatment goals at home. Check in about session takeaways and topics discussed.

For medication management, ensure they adhere to prescribed dosages. Track their mood, sleep, appetite, and any side effects.

Communicate with treatment providers for updates on progress. Sign consent forms allowing team collaboration.

Educate yourself on your teen’s treatment modalities. Ask their therapist how to reinforce skills learned in sessions at home.

Avoid placing blame on your teen, other family members, or yourself. Their depression likely stems from genetic, environmental, and social factors.

Watch for remarks like “You brought this on yourself” or “You’re putting our family through hell.” Self-criticism already plagues your depressed teen.

Focus on moving forward. Statements like “I know you’re trying your hardest” and “This bumpy patch won’t last forever” are more constructive.

Don’t take mood swings personally. Irritability and anger are common depression symptoms. Respond gently and reiterate your support.

Praise any positive steps, no matter how small. Doing chores, socializing a bit, or just getting out of bed some days is progress.

With family support centred on understanding – not judgment – your teen will make it to the other side of depression.

Watching for Emergency Warning Signs

While depression symptoms tend to develop gradually, some require urgent action.

Contact your teen’s doctor or therapist immediately if you notice:

  • Thoughts about death or suicide – Any indication they want to harm themselves warrants ER evaluation.
  • Increasing depression severity – New symptoms like intense crying, aggression, or immobilization.
  • Psychosis – Seeing/hearing things that don’t exist, paranoia, bizarre behaviour.
  • Mania – Abnormally high energy and euphoria, impulsive behaviour, extreme irritability.
  • Self-harm – Cutting, burning, head banging. Have injuries evaluated for proper care.
  • Substance abuse – Heavy drinking, drug use, or medication misuse.
  • Extreme isolation – Shutting everyone out for days.
  • Risky behaviours – Reckless actions they know could seriously harm them.

Don’t ignore remarks like “I can’t take this pain anymore” or “Everyone’s better off without me.” Get professional input immediately.

For emergencies, call 911, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988, or drive them to the nearest ER.

Having a safety plan prepared with their therapist or our on-call staff can guide the following steps if a crisis strikes.

With quick reaction and the proper care, you can stabilize acute symptoms. Ongoing treatment will address the root causes fuelling their depression long-term.

Caring for Yourself and Finding Support

Supporting a depressed teen can be emotionally exhausting. That’s why self-care is essential. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Make time for yourself to recharge – take a bath, read, garden, or partake in hobbies you enjoy.

Sleep and eat well. Exercise reduces stress and boosts energy to support your teen.

Lean on loved ones, and share feelings with your partner, a close friend or family member. Join an in-person or online support group to connect with other parents facing similar challenges.

Consider your counselling to process difficult emotions that may arise. Therapists provide judgement-free support.

Accept help from others – have a relative babysit your other kids so you can take a break, or ask friends to drop off meals.

Communicate openly as a family. Update siblings on treatment progress and allow them to share feelings, too.

Schedule periodic respite care if you need a longer break. Residential treatment programs offer specialized depression care.

Avoid isolation and overfocusing on your teen’s depression. Make time for your career, spouse, and friends – a balanced life.

You do not help your teen if you’re mentally and physically depleted. Prioritizing self-care allows you to present and engage in their healing journey fully.

Navigating Special Treatment Considerations

While core treatment for teen depression follows similar guidelines, some cases require tailored approaches and additional support.


If your teen is actively suicidalpsychotic, or unable to care for themselves, inpatient hospitalization may be needed to stabilize acute symptoms before continuing treatment on an outpatient basis.

We partner with adolescent psychiatric facilities to provide 24/7 care in a secure environment when a crisis requires removal from home.

Working with Schools

Let teachers know your teen is in treatment for depression. Request adjustments like:

  • Leniency with absences and missed assignments
  • Rest breaks during the school day
  • Modified workload and extended deadlines
  • Counselling check-ins

Trauma-Informed Care

Trauma from abuse, violence, or loss requires a treatment approach centred on:

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) helps teens reprocess traumatic episodes that may underlie depression.

Depression in Neurodiverse Teens

Teens on the autism spectrum or with ADHD, learning disabilities, and other neurodifferences are at increased depression risk.

Tailored treatment explores how their neurotype shapes their experience of depression and adapts skills training accordingly.

Counselling geared to their learning style equips them with tools to handle emotions and build self-esteem.

Vulnerable Groups

LGBTQ+ youth adopted teens, and those in unstable home environments contend with added pressures that influence depression treatment.

Identifying and addressing unique risk factors allows us to support the whole person in context.

For example, counselling LGBTQ+ teens with religious families may emphasize reconciling sexuality and spirituality.

The proper treatment approach provides a lifeline for teens facing depression amplified by their circumstances. Specialty care equips them with customized coping strategies while addressing the root causes of their depression. We can guide families through even the most complex mental health challenges with compassion and clinical expertise.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Look for persistent symptoms like frequent sadness, anger, or irritability, plus signs like:

  • Withdrawing from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Decline in academic performance
  • Sleep and appetite changes
  • Expressions of hopelessness or worthless feelings

If multiple depression symptoms last more than 2 weeks, seek professional evaluation.

  • Remain calm and give them space if needed.
  • Acknowledge their feelings and reaffirm your support.
  • Suggest talking to another trusted adult, like a teacher or guidance counsellor.
  • Listen without judgment when they're ready to open up.
  • Suggest hanging out with peers who lift their mood
  • Relax rules about going out with friends
  • Schedule get-togethers at your home
  • Encourage joining school clubs or trying a new sport
  • Remind them social connection is important for mental health
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • Interpersonal therapy (IPT)
  • Acceptance commitment therapy (ACT)
  • Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)

CBT and IPT have the strongest evidence base.

Consult a psychiatrist or mental health provider if:

  • Symptoms persist after 8-12 weeks of therapy
  • Your teen has severe depression or suicidal thoughts
  • Their depression significantly impairs school, relationships, or daily life

Some options to discuss with your teen and treatment team:

  • Changing therapists to improve rapport
  • Adjusting their medication type or dosage
  • Adding new modalities like hypnotherapy or art therapy
  • Considering intensive programs like partial hospitalization

Be patient - finding the proper care takes time.

Seek emergency support if you notice:

  • Thoughts about death or suicide
  • Worsening depression symptoms
  • Extreme isolation from friends and family
  • Psychosis or mania
  • Substance abuse
  • Risky behaviours or self-harm

Get Confidential Help for Your Teen

If your teen is struggling with depression, contact our professional counsellors today. We offer compassionate support and evidence-based treatment.

Benefits of our teen counselling services:

  • Caring, non-judgmental therapists
  • Custom treatment plans
  • Flexible online and in-person sessions
  • Support groups for teens and parents
  • Assistance accessing school/community resources
  • Specialize in depression, anxiety disorders, trauma, neurodiversity, LGBTQ+ identities, and more

With clinics across Canada and online counselling available nationwide, we can help teens and families across the country recover from depression and thrive.

Take the first step. Schedule a risk-free consultation session now.

Picture of Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.


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  3. Erin M. Rodríguez et al., “Externalizing Symptoms Moderate Associations Among Interpersonal Skills, Parenting, and Depressive Symptoms in Adolescents Seeking Mental Health Treatment,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 2015. Source
  4. M. Oberste et al., “Physical Activity for the Treatment of Adolescent Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” Frontiers in Physiology, 2020. Source
  5. A. Ruble et al., “Depression knowledge in high school students: effectiveness of the adolescent depression awareness program,” Journal of affective disorders, 2013. Source

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