Helping a Teen Who's Depressed

Medically reviewed by Cydney Ortiz, PsyD — By Madelyn Brown

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Your teen might be slamming the door and refusing to talk, but they still need a compassionate, informed caregiver to help ease their depression.

You may have noticed that your teen isn’t acting like themselves. They might be quieter, spend lots of time alone, and seem too tired to get out of bed most days.

Teenagers are known for being temperamental, but their recent behavior could seem like something more.

Each time you try to connect with your child, you may be met with a closed door. You might feel helpless, but there are ways to help your teen as they navigate depression.

Is it hormones or a depressive episode?

Being irritable, less talkative, and more tired is typical teenage development. But these symptoms overlap with those of a depressive episode, making it difficult to figure out how to help a teen with depression.

There are some observations you could make and consider the answers to determine whether it’s either common teen moodiness or depression, such as:

Observation: They’re sleeping in more.
Questions: How late are they staying up? Once awake, do they remain listless?

Observation: Your teen answers your “How was your day?” with one mumbled word and rushes to their room, not to be seen again until dinnertime forces them out.
Question: Are they isolating only from the family, or have they also secluded themselves from friends?

Observation: Maybe they’ve played baseball since T-ball age, only to drop the sport suddenly.
Question: Have they replaced old interests with new hobbies, or do they seem unmotivated by activities they used to enjoy?

The answers to these self-queries might warrant more exploration with your kid’s pediatrician and a mental health professional.

Signs of depression in teens could also include:
  • crying spells (for seemingly no reason)
  • complaints of unexplained aches (perhaps frequenting school nurse)
  • emotional numbness
  • irritable or quick to anger
  • loss of self-worth
  • fixation on perceived failures with increased self-criticism
  • poor school performance
  • sensitivity to rejection 
  • hopelessness
  • fatigue
  • concentration or memory challenges
  • appetite changes not typical for them
  • uncharacteristic sleep changes
  • hygiene lapses
  • social isolation
  • self-harm
  • suicidal ideation

For a mental health professional to diagnose depression, the symptoms must persist most of the day every day for 2 weeks.

If your teen is diagnosed with depression, there are treatment options. Still, you can support their well-being at home.

Offering different types of therapy

There are several options for therapy that a teen with depression can try.

For example, your teen may benefit from talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

There are also mental health apps that can supplement your child’s depression treatment. A 2018 meta-analysis Trusted Source showed that smartphone mental health apps markedly improved depressive symptoms compared to control groups.

Your teen may also benefit from the shared experience of group therapy or online group therapy.