How Can Parents Understand and Deal With Teenage Depression

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Mother Worried About Unhappy Teenage DaughterWhat are the “the Blues”?

Sometimes teens feel a sadness as they struggle to let go of the dependence on their parents and try some independence on their own. They might have times when they feel blue. This is not a clinical term, but a periodic state of mind.

But the blueness does not keep them from carrying out full lives with friends and school. They may briefly withdraw or act emotional, but the blueness comes and goes and eventually ceases on its own. With supportive friends and parents, they learn that feeling their independence is invigorating while they keep the closeness to their mother and father although it has a changed quality.

How is Depression Different from Feeling Blue?

When feelings of depression are sustained for weeks and months accompanied by possible symptoms of hopelessness and helplessness with difficulty sleeping, over or under eating, and persistent doubts of self-worth often accompanied by guilt, a clinical depression may have set in.

The teen may explain how he or she feels in different ways such as a weight upon her shoulders or an emptiness inside.

Tips to Help Parents

1. It is very important not to be critical of your depressed child or tell her to be more disciplined and let go of the distressing feelings. She cannot do this. It is not a matter of strength of mind. She cannot control the depression.
2. It is helpful to be patient and considerate, keeping her company if she wishes when she cannot fall asleep.
3. If she oversleeps, it is a symptom of depression. It is not in any way a laziness that should be criticized.
4. It is essential to be empathetic by telling your teen that you know she is struggling and she is not alone. Invite her to tell you how she feels as often as she wishes. If what she says is repetitive, it is because she doesn’t understand herself what is coming over her and is searching for meaning.
5. If she has lost a boyfriend or girlfriend who is now ignoring her, this loss may be very painful, making her feel like an outsider or unliked. Sympathize with her pain rather than trying to talk her out of it which will give her the feeling you don’t understand and then she will feel more alone.
6. Putting feelings into words is very helpful because it helps the teen become less self-absorbed and gives him or her a chance to search for the reasons behind her depression. Your availability to listen is crucial to her healing.

Reasons for Depression

Depression can be caused both genetically and due to stressors in the environment. When both are present, it can take months for the depression to resolve, but being optimistic and hopeful is supportive but not a panacea. It is crucial for parents not to think the depression shall just go away on it’s own and thus put off using the word depression. Naming the problem is a big step in moving forward and reassuring your teen there is nothing to be ashamed of and you are on her side as most supportive.

When to Get Professional Help

When your child’s depression lasts for more than a few weeks, discuss seeking psychotherapy quickly with a licensed social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist that specializes in treating adolescents. That professional can assess in time if medication would be useful for relieving the depression in addition to talk therapy.

It is also helpful for the parents to periodically talk to the teen’s therapist or another therapist recommended by the teen’s psychotherapist, so that the parents receive continued guidance about how to help their child and themselves cope.

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst who treats children,teens and adults with psychotherapy. Her upcoming book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior will be released in October, 2015.


Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst and author who does psychotherapy with infants and parents, children, adolescents, and adults. Dr. Hollman's new book: Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Familius.com. She writes about infant, child and adolescent development, mental health, Parental Intelligence, and a broad range of parenting topics.

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