Mental Health Awareness Month: Talking to Your Teen About Depression

As parents, we are so connected to our children that any sign of their emotional pain is equally distressing to us. If your child or a close friend of your child is depressed, you probably are scared and feeling powerless.

It can be difficult to tell the difference between normal teenage mood swings that are just part of being a teenager and teen depression. Depression also manifests different between girls and boys, and everyone has dark periods in their lives if they are thinking, feeling human beings. You want to look for collections of symptoms that indicate life is overwhelming your child in an ongoing way.

The most immediate signs of depression according to the Mayo Clinic are:

  • Feelings of sadness, which can include crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Feeling hopeless or empty
  • Irritable or annoyed mood
  • Frustration or feelings of anger, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
  • Loss of interest in, or conflict with, family and friends
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Fixation on past failures or exaggerated self-blame or self-criticism
  • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure, and the need for excessive reassurance
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Ongoing sense that life and the future are grim and bleak
  • Frequent thoughts of death, dying or suicide1

You may also notice behavioral changes like disruption in biorhythms, like eating and sleeping. Fatigue, social isolation, lack of interest in school or hobbies, and rejection of family are also common behaviors for depressed people.

If you see these signs:


  1. Give the condition a name: depression. Voice that clinical depression is a disease. Internalizing this help your child avoid blame. It also frames the problem as a condition and not a choice your child is making, relieving your child of judgment.


  1. Don’t panic. This will not help you or your teen. Clinical depression can be successfully treated about 80% of the time2, as long as those around the sufferer understand it and take action. As long as your child has a good doctor and supportive parents, recovering is possible and likely. 


  1. Do your homework. Read up about depression, we recommend Andrew Solomon’s The Noonday Demon. There are sometimes resources through hospitals that can serve as additional support, and alternative therapies like yoga and gardening can help alleviate stress associated with depression.


  1. Keep communication open. Teens tend to hide shield their stuff from parents, and that is part of growing up, but with depression, it’s more important than ever to talk it through. Be gentle but persistent and available but not intrusive. Your teen might not open up right away. Be the strength your teen needs right now, whether he or she chooses to leverage it or not.


  1. Be your child’s advocate in the health care system. The realm of mental health can be dicey from a patient perspective. Make sure that your teen’s doctor is knowledgeable, caring and a good listener. Take charge your child’s treatment and follow your instincts if something doesn’t feel right. Go over all the possible forms of treatment, not just medications. Make it your job to get your teen to appointments and stay on top of prescriptions.


  1. Encourage your child to enter therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is one of the primary tools for dislodging the boulder of depression. It can help your child break out of negative and self-harming thought patterns.


  1. Don’t be afraid of the “S” word. If your child is depressed, you cannot afford to avoid the word suicide. Just asking the question may be a big relief to talk about it if those thoughts are happening. And if they aren’t, having the talk will teach your child how to identify self-harming thoughts


  1. Take suicidal ideations seriously. Conflicts often arise when teens are depressed and for parents, it can be difficult to distinguish acting out from real crisis. Don’t make the mistake of dismissing talk or attempts as idle “cries for help”. Call 911 or take your child to your local emergency room immediately if they are having suicidal thoughts.


Your job in a mental health crisis is to let your teen know know you’re there for them unconditionally and you love him or her, even if your teen is behaving badly. Don’t hide what is happening from other family members, but don’t post an announcement on Facebook either. Keep the key players involved so that your child has a network of positivity and love, just like they would if there was an accident or sickness.

Healing is possible and depression can be managed. The first step is to communicate and educate the whole family so that you can empower your teen to conquer this condition.




About Susie Almaneih

Susie Almaneih spent several years during her young adulthood teaching children dance at her church group, as well as other cultural-based activities. Susie now spends as much time as she can giving back to the families in her community. Over the years, this love for community has evolved into a deeper love for delivering positive and creative content and awareness to families of all ages.

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