Supporting Teens with Depression

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Depression is the most common mental health problem for young people. However, as we look at the current statistics of teen depression, regardless of how disturbing, they help us to recognise that it is a problem shared by many and has resulted in a growing resource of help and support.

The good news is that the majority of adolescent depression can be successfully managed with early treatment and the appropriate support.

Statistics show that:
  • More than 20% of teens in the general world-wide population suffer from emotional problems (160,000 young people in Australia aged 16-24 years live with depression)
  • One-third of adolescents attending psychiatric clinics suffer from depression
  • Adolescent depression is often misdiagnosed or undiagnosed (leading to problems with school, work and personal relationships)
  • Girls are more likely than boys to get depression, but boys often find it harder to talk about their feelings and get help.
  • A recent WHO study shows that young people are often at risk, and that suicide is the second largest cause of mortality in the 10-24 age group
  • If one or both parents have depression, the chance of a teenager also having depression is higher, especially girls.
  • There is also evidence of a small percentage of teenagers that suffer from seasonal depression, usually during winter months and in higher latitudes.
Why does it appear that there are more teens diagnosed with depression today?
Historical statistics will indicate that teen depression was almost unheard of about 15 years ago. This could be due to a number of factors. Some include: less knowledge about depression, less acceptance of the term ‘depression’, the difference in educational, social and societal pressures between now and in previous generations. 
No matter the reason, we are fortunate to have far more resources and assistance available for our young people today.
What is youth depression? 
Everyone feels sad or miserable sometimes, but the term ‘depression’ is given when these feelings are with a teenager most of the time and they stop enjoying what they did before. Having depression is not just feeling down for a day or two, it is diagnosed when the symptoms go on for two weeks or more.
If a teenager has depression they can’t ‘just snap out of it’ or ‘pull themselves together’. Depression is an illness that often will not get better by itself.
Long term effects if left unmanaged:
If youth depression is left unmanaged, this can lead to the long-term effects of; teens dropping out of school or stopping their jobs. This could further affect their social lives and career options. Untreated  depression can also lead to suicidal behaviour.
However, the good news is that teen depression can be treated!
Why do teens get depressed?
It is important for parents to recognize the causes of teen depression and take measures to relieve or fight it. 
  • Parents often think that teens ‘get depressed’ only if something serious has gone wrong in their lives.
  • There isn’t only one reason for a person developing depression.
  • It could be the result of a combination of several factors that put young people at risk of developing depression and it can be different for each person.
  • Sometimes a difficult time in your teenager’s life can set off depression and sometimes it is caused by a combination of things that build up over time. (bullying, family separation, loneliness, abuse, trauma, poor self-worth)
  • Sometimes, there is no obvious cause at all..
  • At times, the depression may develop from another problem such as; an eating disorder, addiction or medical condition.
What should parents look out for?
Some common symptoms of teen depression are:
  • Persistent sadness
  • Crying often or for no obvious reason
  • Changes in relationships or withdrawal from family and friends
  • Refusal to eat or over-eating
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Loss of interest or enjoyment in usual activities
  • Having trouble falling/staying asleep or waking up in the morning
  • Drop in performance at school (due to concentration problems and slowed cognitive thinking)
  • Feeling restless, on edge or getting angry a lot (often in boys)
  • Talk of death or suicide or saying that others would be better off without them
A teen may not outwardly talk of these feelings, but they may engage in things (they never did before) such as; writing morbid poetry, listening to sad music, drawing disturbing pictures to project their feelings, lacking energy or just sleeping to escape (overlooked as laziness).
10 things a parent or carer can do to help?
  1. Don’t put it down to ‘just teenage behaviour’.
  2. If you notice changes in behaviour, talk with your child letting her know you are there for her.
  3. Take a break from criticizing and correcting. Give your teen a compliment each day
  4. Try to respect your teen’s opinions and problems. Your child is justified in his feelings, as it is his perception, even if you may not agree or understand – Remember it is still his reality.
  5. Be open with your teenager about some of your teenage struggles (without too much detail, so as not to create a burden for your teen)
  6. Try and find an trusted adult family member or friend that your teen could talk with.
  7. Help your teen with time management and balancing their schedules (as they will struggle with this if depressed) -  please include downtime and not just work.
  8. Encourage regular healthy exercise, eating well, maintaining supportive positive friendships, time to relax and getting plenty of sleep, as these are vital for teens’ well-being.
  9. Maintain healthy boundaries at home – A teen without rules is a teen with much stress
  10. Try not blame yourself! (Parents will need support too)
By recognizing the signs and symptoms of depression early, friends and family of the depressed teen can assist him or her to seek help early and provide the invaluable support in the teenager’s time of need.
What treatment is available?
There are different treatments for depression but teen depression should not be treated the same as depression in adults.
Counselling, support and someone to just listen are vital parts of the treatment of teen depression. Very often counselling will involve providing the young person with strategies to manage their relationships, daily schedules and their emotions.
Medication should never be used as a first-line treatment for young people with mild-to-moderate depression, as it is noted by doctors that their may be risks involved. However, this is a matter of weighing up the benefits against the risks and will be a decision made by your paediatrician or child psychiatrist. Doctors believe treatment with antidepressants is more likely to be effective when coupled with psychological therapies. The anti-depressant may be used for a time, so that the person can benefit from counselling. Any person taking antidepressants should be closely monitored by their doctor
Everyone is different, so the treatment for depression needs to be worked out to suit the individual teenager.
If you or your teen are having frequent thoughts of wanting to die, you should speak to someone about this immediately.
Remember: The good news is that the majority of adolescent depression can be successfully managed with early treatment and the appropriate support.
Who to go to:
Go to your GP first if you are unsure of what to do. Other people to talk to would be; the school counsellor, your community health centre,  a local hospital or someone you trust.
Here is my radio interview on ‘teen depression and anxiety’. It is just 12 minutes long and can be downloaded for you to listen to in your car on the way to work or on the way home from school drop off. Click here.

Helpline -123344 (Australia)
Childline – 0800 1111 (UK)
Whatsup – 0800 942 8787 or 0800WHATSUP (NZ)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1800 273TALK (USA)
The Youth Beyond Blue website has a depression checklist which is most helpful. ( you can print this out and take it to your child’s doctor)

Headspace website here.
Black dog institute here.

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  1. I am a strict parent, I don’t want my tens to go home late, when I say go home by 8pm I mean they should be inside the house 7:50pm. I don’t want them going anywhere without knowing who they are with and what they are doing and as much as possible I want them to have an adult with them (teachers). But when they face problems I am always there to show my support because I understand their condition for I too have been through it all.

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