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Adolescent Depression: What Parents Can Do To Help

What is adolescent depression?

Depression may be present when your teenager has:

  • A sad or irritable mood for most of the day. Your teen may say they feel sad or angry or may look more tearful or cranky.
  • Not enjoying things that used to make your child happy.
  • A marked change in weight or eating, either up or down.
  • Sleeping too little at night or too much during the day.
  • No longer wanting to be with family or friends.
  • A lack of energy or feeling unable to do simple tasks.
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Low self-esteem.
  • Trouble focusing or making choices. School grades may drop.
  • Not caring about what happens in the future.
  • Aches and pains when nothing is really wrong.
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide.

Any of these signs can occur in children who are not depressed, but when seen together, nearly every day, they are red flags for depression.

What should I do if I think my teen is depressed?

  • Talk to your child about his/her feelings and the things happening at home and at school that may be bothering him/her.
  • Tell your teen's doctor. Some medical problems can cause depression. Your doctor may recommend psychotherapy (counseling to help with emotions and behavior) or medicine for depression.
  • Your child's doctor may now screen your teen for depression every year from ages 12 through 21, with suicide now a leading cause of death among adolescents. Treat any thoughts of suicide as an emergency.

What can I do to help?

Promote health

  • The basics for good mental health include a healthy diet, enough sleep, exercise, and positive connections with other people at home and at school. 
  • Limit screen time and encourage physical activity and fun activities with friends or family to help develop positive connections with others.
  • One-on-one time with parents, praise for good behavior, encouragement for seeking care and pointing out strengths build the parent-child bond.

Provide safety and security

  • Talk with your child about bullying. Being the victim of bullying is a major cause of mental health problems.
  • Look for grief or loss issues. Seek help if problems with grief do not get better. If you as a parent are grieving a loss, get help and find additional support for your teen.
  • Reduce stress as most teens have low stress tolerance. Accommodations in schoolwork is critical as well as lowered expectations at home regarding chores and school achievements. 
  • Guns, knives, long ropes/cables and medicines (including those you buy without a prescription), and alcohol should be locked up.

Educate others

  • Your teen is not making the symptoms up.
  • What looks like laziness or crankiness can be symptoms of depression.
  • Talk about any family history of depression to increase understanding.

Help your teen learn thinking and coping skills

  • Help your teen relax with physical and creative activities. Focus on the his/her strengths.
  • Talk to and listen to your child with love and support. Encourage teens to share their feelings including thoughts of death or suicide. Reassure them that this is very common with depression. 
  • Help your teen look at problems in a different more positive way.
  • Break down problems or tasks into smaller steps so your teen can be successful.

Make a safety plan

  • Follow the treatment plan. Make sure your teen attends therapy and takes any medicine as directed.
  • Treatment works, but it may take a few weeks. The depressed teen may not recognize changes in mood right away and may become discouraged with initial side effects of treatments (such as antidepressants).
  • Develop a list of people to call when feelings get worse.
  • Watch for risk factors for suicide. These include talking about suicide in person or on the internet, giving away belongings, increased thoughts about death, and substance abuse.
  • Locate telephone numbers for your teen's doctor and therapist, and the local mental health crisis response team.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1 800-273-8255 or online at


Additional Information:

Last Updated
Adapted from Addressing Mental Health Concerns in Primary Care: A Clinician?s Toolkit (Copyright © 2010 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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