Teenage Depression: What Parents Can Do

Depression–feeling down or having feelings of sadness–is a mood that can affect anyone. It is a normal part of the range of emotions people experience. It is a useful emotion. It can help a teen recognize problems and cope with difficulties. If depressed feelings– different than a passing mood or feeling–do not go away or when they begin to interfere with daily activities then depression should be recognized and treated. When a teen’s mood disrupts his or her ability to function, it may indicate a serious emotional disorder.

Symptoms of depression

Symptoms can vary for every teen. They can include:

  • Problems with sleep including chronic insomnia, excessive sleepiness, or disturbed sleep
  • Eating problems such as decreased or increased appetite with weight change
  • An increase in energy level including agitation, restlessness, or pacing
  • Lethargy, such as slow body movements or slow speech
  • Fatigue, loss of energy, or lack of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem, or lack of self-confidence
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Depressed mood including crying frequently, brooding, or sadness
  • Feelings of hopelessness or emptiness in life
  • Preoccupation with death or suicide
  • Loss of interest in things, people, or activities

Associated Symptoms

Even in adulthood, depression can be hard to recognize. For teens, depression can be even more difficult to detect. Teenagers are still developing their ability to understand their emotions. They are more likely to displace or act out their feelings. Many teens who are depressed may not appear sad or depressed to others. It may be difficult for parents to recognize. Other signs, or symptoms, may be present that can alert parents to depression. These may include:

  • Somatic symptoms, such as headaches or stomach aches
  • Aggressiveness, anger, or rage
  • Irritability, such as overreacting to criticism
  • Oppositional behavior, such as refusing to cooperate
  • Social problems including social frustration, withdrawal from others, or wanting to run away from home

What causes depression?

The exact causes of depression are not clear, though we do know of some contributing factors. Some types of depression are thought to be hereditary and can more commonly be found in families where one or more members suffer from depression. Depression can be a symptom of a physical problem, such as an illness or disabling condition. Depression also can be related to, or secondary to, another mental disorder.

The incidence of depression is higher among girls than boys, though the reasons for this are not clear. Some researchers have suggested girls are predisposed to depression for both biological and psychosocial reasons. Others have speculated that depression is simply more difficult to identify in boys.

Depression is sometimes part of a psychological problem. For example, low self-esteem, or negative self-concept, is often found along with depression. Stress in the environment or trauma also are associated with depression. For adolescents, the changes they are experiencing can contribute to confusion and emotional turmoil. A teen’s development into adulthood can bring value conflicts and struggles to find a sense of purpose. Problems in relationships or feelings of isolation are common in adolescence. These emotional and psychological factors can contribute to depression.

What parents can do

Stay involved

The influence of parents during a time of potential turmoil is essential for raising healthy teens. Too often, parents respond to the signs of growing independence and withdraw from their teens’ lives. The most important thing a parent can do is to be involved – spend time with their teen.

Support positive relationships

Teens need to feel like they belong. Their peer relationships are one important arena for them to do this. Parents should help their teen find interests and activities that provide opportunities to connect with other teens. Give them opportunities to spend time with friends. Teens need to be exposed to other caring adults they can trust. Contact with these adults should be encouraged in order to help shape the direction of their lives and provide stability.


Parents need to be available so teens can talk to them about the problems they are facing. Asking teens about their life and listening to the answer is important. Listen to their troubles and help them find solutions to their problems. Be able to recognize the warning signs of depression. If a teen talks of suicide, take it seriously.

When to seek help

Seek professional help if your teen shows some of the signs and symptoms of depression. Even if depression is not present, professional mental health counseling can help parents understand the problems their teen is facing and learn how to be helpful. If a teen refuses help, it is still important for parents to get the help they need to care for their teen.

Seek immediate help if a teen shows any of the following problems and these problems are interfering with a teen’s daily living:

  • Significant changes in sleep
  • Continuing physical complaints
  • Changes in appetite
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Preoccupation with death or suicide
  • Changes in personal appearance
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Loss of friends
  • Marked behavior changes
  • Problems in school

Romantic breakup, family changes, loss of a loved one, or other major disappointments or losses can make depression worse and increase the risk of suicide. A psychiatric illness or severe physical illness also can increase risk of depression.


Treatment for depression can involve therapy and medication. Medication for depression improves the neurochemical components of depression and can help improve many of the symptoms of depression.

The most effective treatments for depression involve a combination of medication and therapy. Therapy includes psychotherapy or talk therapy. These therapies help teens understand the source of the depression and how to resolve underlying problems. They also help them learn to cope with the symptoms of depression. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps teens change the thoughts and behaviors contributing to depression.


Child and Family Services
Child and Family Services of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics provides a variety of mental health services for children, teenagers, and their families. Child and Family Services has professionals who work with teens and their families. These specialists include psychologists, nurse practitioners, and psychiatrists who are experienced in the treatment of depression. Our interpretive liaison also works with our team of professionals to treat depression in Hmong teens. Our specialists are experienced in working with depressed teens who are also experiencing medical challenges. (See Chronic Illness and Teenagers) Contact Child and Family Services at 651- 220-6720. For Hmong speaking, call 651-220-6028.

Crisis Support
Crisis Connection
The Crisis Connection provides 24- hour crisis telephone consultation and referrals.

Bridge for Runaway Youth
The Bridge is a 24-hour shelter care for youth ages 10-17.

Information and referral

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
3615 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20016

American Psychological Association
750 1st St, NE, Washington, DC 20002

Minnesota Association for Children’s Mental Health
1821 University Ave., Ste. N184, St Paul, MN 55104

National Institute of Mental Health

6001 Executive Boulevard, Rm. 8184, MSC 9663, Bethesda, MD 20892-9663

National Mental Health Association
1021 Prince St, Alexandria, VA 22314-2971


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