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What to Say If My Teen Is Depressed?

Now more than ever, it is important that you have good communication with your teenager. When you approach her about any behavior changes or signs you've noticed, she may not want to talk about it. You can begin the conversation by reminding her that you are there for her and that you love her. Let your teenager know that she can trust you, that she has not done anything wrong, and that you want to know what is on her mind. The goal is to create a space where your teenager feels safe to share her feelings in an open and honest way.
There is no specific phrase or set of statements that can serve as "words that always work." There are, however, some things that you should never say. If your teenager is coming home right after school and sleeping for a few hours, only to wake up for a little while and then go right back to bed, do not scold him for being lazy. If your teenager can't seem to focus at school and seems to be drifting away into a dream world at the dinner table, do not tell him to snap out of it. It may be frustrating for you to sit by and watch what seems like an easy thing to change or get over; but if your teenager is depressed, he needs more than a push to get back the energy and drive he once had.

What to Do If My Teen Is Depressed?

After talking with your teenager, you also might want to talk with her teacher or friends and see how she is acting at school and outside the home. Have her teacher and friends noticed a difference? If you or other important adults in your teenager's life suspect a problem with depression, here are a few suggested actions to take:
  • Take careful notes about the behaviors that concern you. Note how long the behaviors have been going on, how often they occur, and how severe they seem to be.
  • Make an appointment with a mental health professional or your teenager's doctor for evaluation and diagnosis.
  • Get accurate information from the Internet, library, hotlines, or other sources.
  • Ask questions about treatments and services.
  • Talk with other families in your community.
  • Find family network organizations.
Some teenagers try to numb their feelings of depression with other destructive behaviors like smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, using marijuana or illegal drugs, gambling, or over-eating. If an addiction to one of these substances or activities develops, it will be important to treat your teenager for both the addiction and the mental illness. Try to keep that from happening by showing your teenager other ways to cope with her emotions and to "escape" in a way that is safe and fun.
If your doctor diagnoses your teenager's illness as depression, there are many different treatment options available. Your teenager's depression treatment plan may include medical treatment and/or psychotherapy. You should develop this plan with your healthcare provider and other members of your family, including your teenager; giving him an active role in planning his treatment can be very important to his improvement and recovery.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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