Teenagers and depression: how to talk with a depressed teenager


Teenagers and depressionI have given an overview of treatments for depression in teenagers. Usually, several treatments are combined to cure different aspects of depression.

A treatment based on drugs may be necessary if a teenager shows important symptoms and finds managing their feelings difficult.

At the same time there could be a treatment intended to change the way depressed teenagers think about themselves and reality.

Additional treatment could be based on artistic expression.

These treatments could be complemented by physical activity. However, depressed teenagers shouldn’t be encouraged to be socially active because they could find it stressful. Certainly, a depressed teenager doesn’t need any further stress.

During treatment, parents, as well as anyone in a relationship with a depressed teenager, could ask themselves how they should talk with them.

How to convince a depressed teenager to follow the prescribed treatment

A problem that might appear is convincing depressed teenagers to follow the treatment prescribed by their therapist.

As a parent, I have many times used a well-known tactic. Threaten your children with punishments or promise rewards. I stopped doing this when I realized that it was more damaging than useful.

Punishments and rewards are violence and bribery, and I’m used, now, to assessing whether this tactic is useful or harmful before using it.

With depressed teenagers, this tactic is even more dangerous. Punishing and rewarding, we implicitly transmit the message that our teenager doesn’t deserve to be trusted, but has, instead, to be controlled, punishments and rewards being the means of control.

Depressed teenagers don’t need such a depressive thought. We have to spare them, at least when they are depressed.

If we, the adults, realize that we are suffering depressive thoughts just as our teenagers are, we should follow a treatment intended to change our way of thinking. Maybe even the same prescribed for our teenagers, or something similar.

In this way, the depressed teenagers will see their parents becoming less worried and more confident, and they will therefore be encouraged to follow their own treatment.

How not to make the problem worse

Well-intentioned people can make things worse for a depressed teenager.

Let’s consider a worried parent. For example, a worried mother. There may be very worried mothers and mildly worried ones. There are also the sunny, ever-smiling, never-worried ones.

Unfortunately, fear is the main ingredient of depression. Nothing worse for a depressed teenager than to have worried people around. Don’t feel offended in the slightest if your depressed teen can’t stand your presence if you are a super-worried parent.

Simply, your depressed teen doesn’t want more fear added to theirs, already at a high level.

I know that our modern way of life makes us insecure and anxious. We are safer than ever, but this is far from making us more confident. We tend to depend on society’s approval, and to be afraid of losing it. This makes us psychologically vulnerable.

Let’s suspend judgment for a while

One more heavy psychological burden depressed teenagers have to bear is the one of judgment.

Many parents think that it’s their duty to judge and correct their children, and to mould their characters.

They teach their children which feeling is the right one to have. Their children are scared by the simple idea of admitting some of their feelings in case their parents think them improper. Unfortunately, the habit of judging emotions makes it difficult for children to express them without constantly fearing a negative judgment.

If the parents of a depressed teenager are used to judging, correcting and moulding their children, it’s very important that they suspend this habit because a depressed teenager needs acceptance much more than judgments.

What not to say

We should avoid saying to a depressed teenager:

  • “Get a move on! React! You have to do something!”
  • “Don’t dwell on it! Take your mind off it! Go and have fun!”
  • “After all, there are a lot of people who are worse off than you.”
  • “Don’t keep pitying yourself. You have to react!”
  • “It’s all fantasy.”
  • “You have to grow up, don’t play the victim.”
  • “You do not lack anything to be happy.”
  • “After all you aren’t so sick, you look well.”
  • “It’s only some stress. Some rest, some vitamins, and you will be well again.”
  • “Things aren’t so bad after all, are they?”
  • “You have to step out, you have to have fun!”
  • “You need only a girlfriend (boyfriend).”
  • “Do as I do, when I feel down I have a hot bath and I feel great again.”
  • ”Smile, and the world will smile back.”
  • “It happens to everyone, sooner or later, being depressed.”
  • “You don’t look depressed.”
  • “You do it to attract attention.”

What to say

We can say to a depressed teenager:

  • “I’ll stay close to you, and I won’t leave you even in the worst moments.”
  • ”It’s only a period which will pass and I’ll help you get out of it.”
  • “I can only offer you a shoulder to cry on, but you can count on it.”
  • “Depression is only an illness, it doesn’t mean that you are a weak person or a failure or that you can’t face problems, or that you are mad.”
  • ”You have to convince yourself that this is an illness, and that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It can happen to anyone.”
  • “I understand that you find difficulty in doing everything, but if you lean on me we can make it.”
  • “If you need to pour out your feelings, I’ll be a good listener, and I promise you that what you tell me will stay between you and me.”
  • ”You aren’t mad, you are simply depressed, and depression is an illness which can be treated.”
  • “I can imagine your suffering and anguish, and I’m close to you.”
  • “You don’t have to thank me if I’m close to you. It’s my choice, and the best thanks is to see you smile again.”
  • “It’s difficult, for people like me who haven’t experienced it, to imagine what you tell me you feel, but I can understand how much you suffer.”
  • “You are important to me all the same.”


There are more articles you may find inspiring when talking with a depressed teenager.

Why the archetype of the Great Mother is important for a good treatment is an article about the archetype of the Great Mother, the psychological force that drives the healing of depression. You can read the story of Mysha and Denise and may find it inspiring when talking with depressed teenagers.

Science can help us to know our teens encourages us to have a genuine and human relationship with our teens. 

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