Youth Depression: What to Know and How to Help


“Feeling blue” or feeling “down in the dumps” is a normal part of being a teenager. There are many moments in one’s adolescence when they experience upsets or moments of sadness. Experts remind us that adolescence can be a very unsettling time and teens can be faced with an array of physical, emotional, psychological and social changes that challenge their day to day happiness. As parents, you may be watching as your child deals with: academic disappointments; rejection among their school peers; unfair or unrealistic social, academic, or family expectations; or feelings of confusion, stress, or a lack of fairness. Being a teen can be difficult and isolating – even before they may also be burdened with issues of mental health.


But this is no reason to be wary, worried or stressed as a parent. These days, there is increasing awareness about mental health – particularly depression – especially as it impacts adolescence. When your teen’s mood shifts, there are plenty of resources to help you. These are resources not only identify with what they might be enduring but also how to help them move through and heal from what is plaguing them.


As a parent, you may also be feeling very helpless and worried. But remember that depression is very treatable. Not only should you expect that your child will feel better, but that there are reliable ways to monitor, address and ensure that your child can find their way out of depression. Once you find out exactly what your child is dealing with, it is easier to determine the exact treatment needed. This, of course, will depend on your child’s mental health needs and goals. But together with experts and a great support system, it is entirely possible to find a treatment that works for you.


Is My Child Depressed?


Recognizing adolescent depression can be a challenge – particularly if you do not know what to look for. According to recent expert surveys, as many as one in five teenagers suffers from clinical depression. Depression can take a number of forms, including mental health challenges that range from seasonal depression to bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depression), which is a condition that alternates between periods of euphoria and depression.


For many teens, depression can be difficult to diagnose. At times, some teachers and parents may believe the young person in their life to simply be going through a mood swing. Diagnosis may also be difficult to arrive at particularly if the teenager in your life has difficulty expressing themselves or understanding their feelings very well. This problem becomes compounded when the teens and their parents are unaware of the symptoms of depression or how and when to seek help.


If you are concerned that your teen is dealing with depression, here are some symptoms to look out for (particularly if they last for more than two weeks):


• Poor performance in school

• Withdrawing from social circles, friends, and activities
• Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
• Lack of enthusiasm, energy or motivation – particularly for social elements
• Feelings of anger, rage, and hostility
• Overreaction to personal criticism
• Feelings of being unable to satisfy expectations (school, family, friends)
• Poor self-esteem or guilt about personal issues
• Indecision, lack of concentration or forgetfulness
• Restlessness and agitation in varying circumstances
• Changes in eating or sleeping patterns


• Substance (drugs/alcohol) abuse or becoming sexually irresponsible
• Risk-taking behavior
• Problems with authority or those in positions of power
• Suicidal thoughts or actions



Some of these behaviors may result in your child becoming anti-social, feeling isolated (and even more depressed than they already are), or even lead to destroyed relationships with friends, family, law enforcement or school officials.


The good news is that with this information, you are well equipped to know the signs of teen depression and can equip yourself with additional information on what the next steps might be and how to go about getting help.


How Do I Help My Teen Treat Their Depression?


The first thing parents should know is that depression is a serious mental health issue and should be treated with immediate and prompt professional treatment. It is typically the case that if depression is left untreated, it can worsen to the point of becoming life-threatening. Every situation where depression is a factor requires a specific approach. Some situations may merit individual group or family counseling. Other scenarios may require the help of medications that can be prescribed by a psychiatrist. As such, it is important that your teen receive immediate and individualized care in order for them to feel better.


In most cases, these are the most common treatments/approaches to treating depression in adolescents:


shutterstock_165358529• Psychotherapy gives teens an opportunity to explore the events and feelings that are painful or troubling to them. This approach also teaches young people the necessary coping skills in order to successfully move forward;
• Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps teenagers change negative patterns of thinking and behaving that may be leading to or continuing their depressive state;
• Counseling or “talk therapy” can help your teen understand what they are experiencing and how to manage their depression

• Interpersonal therapy is an approach that takes as its main focus on how teens can develop healthier relationships at home and at school where their depression might be most plaguing them.
• Medication for many relieves some symptoms of depression and it is often prescribed along with therapy by a medical expert who can monitor usage and how the drug is impacting the body and mind. Medicine is often offered if your doctor finds that other treatments haven’t been or won’t help with your particular situation. Please note that if you and your child decide that taking medicine is the best route, it’s important to talk to your doctor about what to expect and follow their instructions as closely as possible.


Each of these options is viable and responsible solutions for dealing with depression in adolescents. By reaching out and seeking one of these solutions, you are helping your teen take a major step in their own recovery. However, remember that few adolescents seek help on their own. This is why a parent or a caregiver’s help is key. Not only will they need your assistance in determining what is going on (identifying their depression), but they will also need your help finding the right solution and approach, as well as the help and positive encouragement needed in order to keep on a solid road to recovery. As a parent, it is important that you remember the role that your encouragement and positive level of reinforcement can bring to their healing process. It can literally make all the difference in bringing your child back to healthy mental health level.

Who Else Can You Enlist To Help?


When facing depression, the road can be burdensome to both yourself and your child. This is why it is both important and necessary to bring along as many supports as possible.


Other important folks to lean on might be:


• Your doctor can help provide viable strategies for healing or suggestions as to which expert is best to help treat your child’s depression. Many people feel nervous when they talk with their doctor about depression, but it is important to remember that they are an important tool to help you get the expert help that will bring your child back to well-being.
• School counselors, teachers, or school staff members can help you understand what might be affecting your child in the school environment (if their trouble stems from school). These adults can also help put you in the direction of good mental health resources (specifically for teenagers) and support that is specifically geared towards young people. Each of these members of your teen’s school community can also help you deal with other issues that you may not immediately consider. For example, advocating for extra homework and exam help or time, assistance with school work, or who your child can work with on a day-to-day basis to monitor their mental health progress.

Aside From These Strategies, What Else Can I Help My Child Do To Deal With Depression?


The above-noted strategies for dealing with depression, at times, tend to be the most obvious. But there are also other key ways that you can help find and work on a path of healing for your child. You may consider some of the following in addition to the suggestions offered above:


shutterstock_499584037• Support from others can help your child feel as though they are not alone in what is happening to them. There are many examples of support such as support groups, a doctor, online support, or a mental health club at their school or in their community hub;
• Self-care at home is also a great way to address mental health challenges on a day-to-day basis. These kinds of approaches might include simple activities that bring you happiness, joy, and relief such as: listening to music, taking a relaxing bath, being active (doing exercise or yoga), meditating, doing mindful exercises, or writing what you’re grateful for in a journal;
• Trying to get enough sleep every night is also important because being well rested means that you will feel a lot better. And remember that teens need much more sleep than adults in order to function and feel mentally and emotionally well. If you are having trouble getting a good night’s rest, there are also many places to look for helpful and healthy tips on how to optimize your sleeping pattern. You may also want to talk to your doctor or mental health professional on what might help maximize your sleep potential;
• Try to be active every day because physical activity can really help boost your mood and cope with the anxiety and depression that comes with worry or stress. Try going for a short walk after school, or doing an early morning round of yoga or Pilates;
• Try to eat well because food is key to helping you feel healthy and energize. Good nutrition will help your teen feel fueled throughout the day, and will ensure that they are putting the right types of fuel in their bodies to address their mental health challenges;
• Finally, try to find additional ways to help your teen relax. Consider playing relaxing music, watching a comedy or light-hearted video, or finding relaxation resources like meditation and mindfulness podcasts and videos. By using these additional resources, you can maximize the other solutions that you have already helped your teen put into action.


As a parent, you’re well aware that your biggest role in the life of your child(ren) is to ensure their well-being. Depression and anxiety can have a tremendous impact on this, so by arming yourself with information and strategy, you’re serving your purpose well.

For more ideas and constructive tools and discussion for you and your child or teen with depression and anxiety in Ottawa, get in touch with Ottawa Youth Counselling.