What to do if my teenager refuses help with depression

It can be a tough thing to accept that your teenager is experiencing depression. But it can be even harder if you feel like they don’t want help. If you’ve chatted to your teen and offered to help them, you may now need just to be patient. One of the key symptoms of depression is fatigue, so doing anything can be very difficult. Your child might also feel like they’re in a really dark space and cut off from their friends and family. So, they might seem like they don’t want to listen to you or accept your help.

Keeping the communication lines open is super-important – even if it feels like it’s just a one-way thing at the moment. The good news is, there are some simple things you can do at home to help improve your teen’s mood and wellbeing. Try the suggestions below to help manage symptoms (both for the moment and in the long run), and to give your teen some extra time to process things until they’re willing to talk and get support.

Things that can help when experiencing depression

Support and connection

Social connection is an incredibly important protective factor against depression. Encourage your teen to join you for simple activities, to give them opportunities to chat with you or just to hang out. Try suggesting that they join you on a short drive, a trip to the shops or to walk the dog. You might have to try a few times, so be patient.

Strong friendships can also boost self-esteem and increase feelings of belonging, self-worth and hope. Encourage your child to spend time with supportive friends and to engage in social activities, if they feel they can. This can include connecting with other young people online.

Being available to talk

Your young person might not want to talk when you approach them. While it’s not helpful to push them to open up, it’s important for them to know that when they feel up to it, you’ll be there for them.

Sometimes, talking to an adult friend can be easier than a parent, so if there’s someone close to your child, consider having a chat to them about this and asking them to reach out. For example, your teen might feel more comfortable talking to an aunt, a sports coach, a teacher or their friend’s parent. Remember: if they’d rather talk to someone else, this doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong.

Hobbies and activities

It can also help to encourage the things that they enjoy doing, either on their own or with friends. Whether that’s music, doing something creative, watching sport or doing something else, sometimes they might need encouragement or a reminder to stay engaged with the things that make them feel good.

Keep expectations realistic – for example, if your teen is a competitive runner, but they’ve been feeling down and haven’t run in a few months, they probably won’t want to go back to regular running right away. Small steps, like just getting to the park and spending ten minutes walking around, are more achievable.


Movement and physical activity is particularly important for someone who is depressed. Simple suggestions such as inviting your child to go for a walk, swim or a bike ride can start the endorphins flowing, which can lift their mood. These activities can be a short-term circuit breaker, which may enable them to think about getting help or engaging in other activities that require more focus or concentration.

Eating and sleeping well

Eating nutritious meals and getting the right amount of sleep are enormously beneficial in treating depression. The optimum amount of sleep that young people need is 7.5 hours a night. Help your child to establish regular sleep patterns during the week and at weekends, and build up habits that are going to help them sleep better.

Remember: if your child is depressed, they are likely to experience lethargy and low motivation. So, if they won’t engage in positive lifestyle changes initially, be patient and try to find ways to make it as easy for them as possible.

Check out some more self-help strategies on our ReachOut youth site. Your teen can also find stories about the experiences of depression in other young people. This can be a really positive way of managing depression, as your child won’t feel so isolated and alone.

Seeing the doctor

Your teen might feel more comfortable talking to a doctor about their physical symptoms rather than their emotional symptoms.

Encourage them to list their symptoms, when they occur and how they feel about them. Think of this as a way to help them open up and be more comfortable with getting support. Offer to go with them to the appointment, but be respectful of how they want to manage their own health.

Expressing your emotions

The way your teen sees you react to situations provides a model for them of coping skills, so the way you handle your own emotions is crucial. Your child needs to know that you support them and that you care, but also that you respect their need to find their own way though their situation.

It’s important to be true to your own feelings in this situation. Don’t hide your concern, but try to remain calm and to help your child feel confident that this is something they can get through with help. Avoid trying to cheer them up or saying ‘It will pass’ or ‘I know how you feel’. Show your genuine feelings and interest in supporting them, but recognise that this is not about you.

Many parents dealing with teenage depression blame themselves or feel at fault. Remember that depression isn’t something you can control – it’s not your fault, and you haven’t failed as a parent. While you are looking after your teen, remember that looking after yourself is important, too.

Page last reviewed by ReachOut Parents Clinical Advisory Group on 15/03/2020.