What Parents Can Do to Help Their Depressed Teen

If you suspect that your teen is struggling with symptoms of depression, there is often an urge to “fix” things. While you can’t make the depression go away or make your teen want to get better, there are some things that every parent can do.

Be supportive: One of the most important things that parents can do is simply be there for their teen. Work on strengthening the relationship, listen to their experiences, and try to put yourself in their shoes. Many parents may feel that this approach is too passive, but being there in this way and accepting and validating your teen’s experience is extremely important. A strong parent-child relationship can aid in preventing or alleviating symptoms related to depression. Specifically, a parent can:

  1. Set aside a consistent time to talk one on one without distractions.
  2. Try your best to provide a non-judgmental atmosphere where your child is encouraged to express their feelings about family, friends, school, and relationships.
  3. Encourage your teen to spend time with supportive friends and to engage in organized activities (e.g.., sports, clubs, art class) they enjoy.
  4. Be aware that early dating experiences can be challenging for teens.

Accentuate the positive: Make sure to notice, point out, and offer praise for the positive things that your teen is doing. Make sure to offer positive statements or praise more often than negative statements.Get to know what your child cares about and praise him or her for strengths (academics, music, sports, etc.).

  1. Be aware that increased screen time and use of social media can lead to negative comparison with peers or idealized media figures.
  2. Often times depression in teens can manifest as prolonged moodiness and irritability.
  3. Try to respond to your teen’s anger non-defensively and in a calm manner instead of with aggression. Blaming can put up more walls between you and your teen and shut down much needed lines of communication.

Make sure they are physically feeling their best: Our bodies and minds are connected, so make sure your teen is engaging in behaviors that promote physical health.

  1. Encourage physical activity: the Department of Health and Human Services recommends 1 hour per day of physical activity. Regular physical activity, regardless of intensity, has been proven to play a role in reducing symptoms related to depression.
  2. Ensure your teen is getting enough sleep: Lack of sleep increases risk for depression and depression can decrease one’s ability to sleep. In a recent Mayo Clinic study, teens whose parents enforced a bedtime of 10 pm were significantly less likely to become depressed compared to teens who went to bed at midnight or later.
  3. Monitor screen time. This could be impacting your teen’s ability to sleep at night and to engage with others in physical activity.

Help them get treatment: If your teen is open to seeing a therapist, find two or three practitioners who are experienced in working with teens and allow your child to choose the person they feel most comfortable with. Not all teens are open to the idea of therapy. Be patient, and let them know that the door is open for them to come talk to you or get professional help should they change their mind. Many teens can also benefit from anti-depressant medications. Research has shown that therapy alone can be effective for mild to moderate depression, but the best results are usually gained with a combination of medication and therapy. If medication is a consideration, seek out a board certified child and adolescent psychiatrist (rather than a general physician) for a consultation.

Take care of yourself: Caring for a teen who is struggling with depression can be emotionally and physically exhausting. Make sure to offer yourself the support that you need and make time for self-care. Talking with friends, loved ones, or a therapist can be beneficial; you are not alone.

Further Reading:

How to Help Your Depressed Teenager

Parent’s Guide to Teen Depression

Suicide Prevention

Teen and Tween Health