Today’s teenagers are severely affected by mental health problems and disorders, especially depression. The World Health Organization reports that depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents, and that 1 in 7 young people between the ages of 10 and 19 struggle with their mental health. If you have a teenager in your life, the chances that they have struggled with, are struggling with, or will struggle with depression are unfortunately high.


As a parent or other trusted adult in the life of a teenager, you’re sure to be worried about the possibility that the child you love is suffering and in pain, but you might be lost on what you can possibly do to help them. While depression is a difficult disorder to cope with, it’s extremely treatable, and there are many ways that you can help your child to come out stronger and happier on the other side of it! Here are some to keep in mind.

Look for Signs

In order to help your teen through depression, you first have to know that they’re depressed, something even the most forthcoming teenagers probably won’t want to admit. It isn’t as easy as keeping an eye out for sadness or tiredness either, as some moodiness is normal for adolescents, and some people with depression can hide their low moods very well. Instead, keep an eye out for signs like aches and pains, stomach problems, a lack of interest in their usual activities, friends, and hobbies, changes in their sleep and eating habits (e.g., sleeping or eating more or less than usual), negative or critical ways of talking about themselves, or angry outbursts.


You should also be aware of signs of self-harm or suicide, including writing, talking, or thinking about death, giving away possesions, withdrawing from loved ones or saying goodbye, or engaging in risky behaviors like drugs or alcohol use. These signs are frightening, but they should be handled calmly and immediately with a mental health professional.

Engage with Compassion

Many teens with depression hide their struggles from parents and adults in their lives because they worry that they will be judged, shamed, or looked down on for their difficulties with their mental health. You may have your own ideas about depression and sadness and how they should be dealt with, but understand that the most helpful thing you can do for a teenager you love, especially when they’re hurting, is to approach them with curiosity, compassion, and understanding.


Open the floor for your teen by gently asking them questions. Keep the focus on hearing what they have to say and caring for their wellbeing, not judging them– instead of remarking about how their grades are slipping and they’re quitting their extracurriculars, perhaps tell them you’ve noticed that they seem unhappy, tired, or low, and ask if something is wrong and if there is any way that you can help.


It’s likely that the first time you try to talk to your child in this way, you won’t get a very open response. That’s ok! Try to let them know that they can always talk to you without fear of upsetting you, and remind them that you love them and want them to be as healthy and happy as possible. Continue to engage with them and take an interest in how they feel and what they think. Eventually, they’re likely to open up.

Encourage Helpful Habits

Whether or not your child is able to discuss their depression with you or even admit to themselves that they have it, you can still help them by encouraging them to build habits and engage in activities that are helpful in fighting depression. Getting enough sleep and exercise, for example, can be an important part of coping with a mental health disorder, so gently encouraging your teen to keep a regular sleep schedule and engaging in physical activities like family walks or yoga classes can be helpful. 


It’s also very helpful to encourage supportive relationships for your teen. They may not want to talk to you about their depression, but talking to anyone about it is still good, so help them to find time to spend with friends or family members by offering rides or relaxing rules about curfew or late-night outings. What’s most important is for your teenager to be getting the support and the listening ear that they need.

Model Self Care

You may remember how teaching toddlers and young children is as much about what they see you do as what you tell them to do. Kids learn how to eat with a knife and fork by watching the adults in their life as well as by doing it themselves and being instructed. This same principle applies to the things your teenager is learning, as well. If they see you ignore or push down your feelings or berate yourself about mistakes, they’ll learn to do the same thing. However, if you can model healthy ways of managing your emotions and dealing with sadness and low moods, they’ll start to learn to do things for themselves.


Try to be conscious of your own self care habits and how they appear to your teenager. Having practices like good sleep and exercise habits, keeping a journal, taking walks, or meditating are all good things to do for your own mental health, and it can be helpful to talk to your teen about how they help you manage difficult emotions or stress. Admitting when you yourself are struggling and then elaborating on how you plan to get through it can also be great ways to model healthy mindsets, like saying “I had a really hard day at work today, I’m just so tired and frustrated. I think I’ll take a walk and a hot shower after dinner and try to get to bed early tonight to help myself feel better.”  You may be reluctant to feel as if you’re showing weaknesses to your child, but remember that children learn by seeing just as much as doing. If you want your kid to know how to get through hard times on their own, you have to show them!

Offer Resources

Treatment options like therapy or medications can be transformative for people of all ages with depression, teenagers included. Some kids may be reluctant to ask for these things or seek them out on their own, so one of the ways that you can help as an adult is to make sure your child knows that there are options out there that can help them feel better, and that you will be on their team to help them find one that works for them. If your teenager is adamant about not wanting therapy or medication, don’t force them– it’s possible to do more harm than good by strong-arming your kid into a therapist’s office when they don’t want to be there. However, if your child expresses an interest in trying some of these treatment options, encourage them to do so and offer what help you can in finding doctors, arranging appointments, and getting to office visits. If your teenager has tried traditional treatment methods before without much success, options like transcranial magnetic stimulation might help them to get the results they’re looking for. 


Knowing that a child in your life is struggling can make you feel sad and hopeless, too, but with an open mind and lots of love, you can help your teenager to get through this and feel better again! For more information on TMS and other alternative therapies, contact our team at the TMS Center of the Lehigh Valley.