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World Mental Health Day: How to Deal With Teen Depression

Mother comforts her troubled teenage daughter.

For many years, the medical community denied that there was any such thing as teen depression. Teens could be moody, irritated and they definitely went through phases. But, only adults got depressed. Fortunately, that view has changed and teen depression is now recognized as being very real. According to research conducted by Stanford Children’s Health, 11 percent of young people will have experienced a depressive episode by the end of their teen years.

What is Depression

The word depression is often thrown around. Yet there is a big difference between feeling downcast and being clinically depressed. Depression impacts a person’s ability to function properly. 

A boy sitting alone near a window suffering from teen depression.
Depression Can Make A Person Feel More Like A Failure (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Depression can develop in people who constantly view themselves as not measuring up. As well as failing to meet the expectations that they have for themselves, they may also think that they are constantly letting down other people. The general perception of depression as being a form of weakness can compound a person’s depression, as the very condition can make them feel more of a failure.

The feelings of sadness, failure, anxiety, and worthlessness that are the hallmarks of depression do not go away. 

Signs of Depression in Teens

The signs and symptoms of depression among teens include:

  • Feeling hopeless
  • No motivation
  • Low self-esteem
  • Guilty feelings
  • Constant negativity
  • Suicidal talk
  • Inability to sleep
  • Loss of weight
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Pervasive ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude
  • Fatigue

How to Help

If you believe that your teenager or a teen that you know is suffering from depression, you should seek medical assistance. Look for a clinical therapist who specializes in working with teenagers. The most important thing in finding the right therapist is the rapport that they are able to establish with the teenager. If your teen does not feel comfortable with the therapist, do not hesitate to change to a person who is better able to put the child at ease and get them to open up. 

Mother helping stressed teen daughter looking at a laptop.
Seek Medical Help If You Know That Your Child Is Suffering Depression (Image Source: Shutterstock)

How to Find the Right Therapist When it Seems Impossible (

It is likely that the therapist will suggest a dual treatment approach involving talk therapy and antidepressant medication. Do not be afraid of antidepressants. These are designed to correct any chemical imbalances in your child’s brain. However, you should be fully informed about the side effects of any medication that is suggested to your child. In 2004, the FDA issued a warning that antidepressant medications may cause suicidal thoughts in teenagers. That warning gave the suicidal tendency rate at 3 percent. 

If your child does go on antidepressant medication you should carefully monitor them, especially during the first month. Be especially on the lookout for any signs of suicidal tendencies. Do not be afraid to talk you your child about suicide. Research indicates that talking about suicide does not make a person more likely to attempt to end their life. 

Helping Your Child Cope

Your child’s therapist will likely schedule weekly sessions during which they help the teen to change negative thought patterns and develop a more positive outlook. You can work in tandem with this process by helping your child to cope with life. Here are four ways you can do this:

Encourage Exercise

Getting into a regular exercise program will help your child to feel better about him or herself. Exercise has been shown to be one of the best things a person can do to improve their self-esteem. 

Mother and her kids jogging in the morning.
Exercising Can Improve Teens Self-Esteem (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Exercise reduces anxiety, increases feelings of self-worth, and improves mental positivity. For example, a 1989 study, published in Medicine and Science in Sport & Health, found that every time a person is able to increase their repetitions while exercising, they had a belief that they were more capable, leading to an increase in confidence. When your teen becomes better, stronger, and faster, he or she will feel so much better about themself.

Help Them Find Structure

Putting structure into their day will go a long way toward helping your teen to feel better about themself. The less time they spend sitting around playing on their phone, the better. Encourage your teen to have a weekly planner. The first two things that they can plot on their planner are their weekly session with their therapist and their exercise sessions. 

Help your teen come up with other constructive activities to fill up their day. The more tasks that they complete, the greater the feeling of accomplishment they will experience.

Help Them Eat Well

It is likely that your depressed teen is not eating for health and well-being. You can encourage them to eat better by doing the following:

  • Do not serve them up fatty foods, such as dairy products, fried foods, cakes and pastries.
  • Do not encourage the concept of comfort food.
  • Encourage your teen to eat plenty of white meat such as turkey and chicken. 
  • Grill and bake foods and steam or boil vegetables.
  • Encourage your teen to eat more high fiber foods, such as fresh fruit, wholemeal bread, baked beans and lentils.
  • Substitute roasted peanuts and chips with unsalted nuts and dried fruit.
  • Encourage your child to cut down on sugary drinks as these can affect their mood and cause additional stress.

Help Them Develop Better Eating Habits

Depressed teens often follow poor eating habits. They may eat at the wrong time, such as in between meals and late at night; they may skip breakfast or lunch, or use food to satisfy emotional needs, eating when depressed, sad or lonely.

Mother teach teenage daughter cooking healthy food at home kitchen.
Encourage Your Teens To Eat Healthy (Image Source: Shutterstock)

The following tips can help you to help your teen to change poor eating habits and deal with some of the emotional factors involved:

  • Eat three times a day, preferably at the same time.
  • Sit down at the table when eating.
  • Chew food slowly to aid with digestion and prevent overeating.
  • Drink several glasses of water everyday.
  • Ask the question: Am I really hungry now? If not, am I depressed, lonely, angry or bored?

If your teen identifies that they are eating to deal with negative emotions, encourage them to divert themself into other activities. These could include practicing a relaxation technique, going for a walk, cleaning their teeth or keeping them self occupied in another way.