How to Help Your Depressed Teen

depressed teen staring out window

You or another adult you know may have experienced depression; the inexplicable hopelessness, lethargy, just feeling "down." But what do you do when these symptoms affect your teenager? And what do you do if the symptoms linger? Can you just tell them to "chipper up and move on"? How serious is teenage depression? Do you have to worry about suicide, and should you put your kid on anti-depressants right away?

The truth is, teen depression is fairly common, and there is a lot parents can do to help. You don't have to be afraid. We've outlined some things to keep in mind as you learn about depression in teens, and explore options that might help your child.

sad teen

What does depression look like?

Here is a list of questions from Stephanie Dowd, PsyD of Child Mind Institute:

  • Has she been sad or irritable most of the day, most days in a week for at least two weeks?

  • Has she lost interest in things that she used to really enjoy?

  • Have her eating or sleeping habits changed?

  • Does she have very little energy, very little motivation to do much of anything?

  • Is she feeling worthless, hopeless about her future, or guilty about things that aren’t her fault?

  • Have her grades dropped, or is she finding it difficult to concentrate?

  • If one or more of these questions ring true for your teen, she may be dealing with depression.

Why is My Teen Depressed?

The years between 13 and 20 are full of change, upheaval, self-evaluation. Throw in hormones, school, sports, stress at home or work, and you have a pretty strong cocktail. Any of those can lead to feelings of isolation or disconnection, both of which are key components in depression, as well as trauma, according to psychotherapist Lynn Lyons. "For many teens, stress and anxiety can go hand-in-hand with depression," say Smith, Robinson, & Segal of It's also important to realize and remember depression in your teen is not your fault. And it isn't a permanent state. Whatever the cause of your teen's depression, you can offer help and support to get him through to the other side.

mom and son walking together

What Can I Do to Help?

"While you can't make her want to get better, there are some things that you as her parent can do. And it starts with simply being there for her," says Stephanie Dowd, PsyD of Child Mind Institute. Psychotherapist Lynn Lyons reminds parents to "Most importantly, stay connected to your teens, even when they are being clear about how annoying you are." Whether she shows it or not, you teen needs you present in her life. The therapists at break down parental help into two main categories: social connection and physical health. You want to keep her connecting and not isolated. Listen, listen, listen to your teen. Encourage her to talk, if not to you, to another adult. Encourage her to connect with friends and get back into activities she enjoys. Find a volunteering opportunity for her. Be sure to encourage all her healthy physical habits, too. Make sure she's getting enough sleep. Encourage her to get moving every day in some physical activity. Make her healthy meals. Give her screen time limits. It can be difficult to motivate someone struggling with depression, so try not to force these issues, but in general a person whose physical needs are met will be in a better position to address emotional and psychological struggles.

When Does My Teenager Need Treatment for Depression?

Here's a guideline from Dowd: "Has she had thoughts of suicide? If so it's crucial you have her evaluated by a mental health professional immediately. If the thoughts are really serious and there is imminent threat, you will need to take her to an ER.

If your teen shows more than a few of the signs from the list above, she may have depression that warrants professional attention."

We all want our kids to be healthy and happy, and to lead productive, meaningful lives. Sometimes they will hit a dip in the road, and you can be key in helping them up and back on their way. Remember, the tips offered here should not be taken as medical advice. If you have concerns about your teen's mental health, taking them for a professional evaluation is always a good place to start.