a boy in school uniform looking concerned

Some teenagers can have mood swings and can be rebellious. But even in the range of emotional reactions you can expect of a teenager, you may observe different and concerning behavioural patterns. These might be signs of depression and, if so, it is important for you to explore what might be going on. You need to know at the outset that there is help available and depression can be treated. It may be a long road with setbacks along the way but be confident that, with the right support, you can access the most appropriate medication and/or therapy for teenage depression.

Talking to your teen about depression

How to talk to your child about depression? If you notice some of the signs of depression in your child, it’s important to talk to them. Even if your teenager isn’t experiencing depression, it’s important to get to the bottom of the behavioural change you’re noticing, to see if there’s something else going on. Non-judgmental communication with your teenager about their health won’t do any harm, and if there is something more serious going on then you’ve already taken the first step towards help together.

When you talk to your child be specific about what you’ve noticed and why it’s worrying you. Ask them if there’s anything going on for them that they’d like to talk about. Your teenager might not open up right away, but you’ll be planting the seed for them to talk about it, and they’ll realise that you’re concerned and that you care. Initially they may deny that anything is wrong. It’s also often the case that teenagers don’t connect their feelings and behaviours with experiencing depression.

Some things to consider when talking to your child about depression:

  • Listen openly. Don’t overwhelm your teenager with questions. Try to avoid lectures and ultimatums. The important thing is to get your child talking about what they’re going through, and letting them know you are there to listen. Talking about depression can be hard for anyone, so if your child shuts you out at first, respect their level of readiness to talk.
  • Validate their feelings. This isn’t your experience, so even if the thoughts and feelings seem silly or irrational to you, it’s important not to downplay them. Acknowledge the feelings and emotions your teenager is describing, to ensure that they feel comfortable opening up to you.
  • Offer your support. Let your child know that you’re there to support them no matter what. Listen to and work with your child to figure out the support that is best for them.

Teen depression help and support

People who experience depression need different types of support because there’s no ‘one size fits all’ treatment. Be open to learning what the different options are and work with your child to help them decide which one will suit them the best. If your child’s depression is significantly affecting their life, it’s best to see a mental health professional, such as a psychologist. If the depression is mild, or your child isn’t yet open to seeing a professional, there are lifestyle changes and self-management options that can be a good first step. Common teenage depression treatment includes:

  • Talking therapies. Your GP will be able to refer you to a psychologist under the Better Access Scheme through Medicare, who can work with your child over several sessions to manage their depression. There are a variety of therapies that different psychologists use. Your teenager can also speak to a school counselor or youth worker. 
  • Online and phone support. Depending on your circumstances and the preferences of your teenager, online and phone support might be a better fit. They can also be great for times when face-to-face help isn't available like at night or in between appointments. There are lots of different options:
  • Medication. Antidepressants can be prescribed by a GP or other medial professional. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the side effects, and whether they are the right choice for your child.
  • Lifestyle changes. Leading a healthy lifestyle can play an important role in managing depression. This can include:

Often the most effective ways to treat teen depression is to use a range of different strategies, rather than just rely on one thing. Talk about the options for your child with them and a mental health professional.

Common reactions to learning your child has depression

It’s heart breaking to see your child struggling. You may feel powerless if your child doesn’t want to talk to you about what is happening for them. Your support of them is vital but you may not be able to directly influence their mood and this doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent. In these circumstances your own mental health is particularly important and it may be helpful to talk to professionals about what is going on for you and ways to look after yourself, so that you’re in the best place to support your child.

It might help you to think about depression like a broken arm – your child has a broken arm; they are not a broken arm. Likewise your child has depression they are not depression.

Just as you would seek help for your child’s broken arm without hesitation, confident that they will heal, having the same attitude to depression will help your child realise that there is no need to feel ashamed, afraid or embarrassed. Stigma and misunderstanding about depression can stop people getting the help that they need – imagine not getting help for a broken arm. Be positive and optimistic that you will find the help your child needs for depression. Be prepared that it might take some time but you will both get to a place where your child can be well again.

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