How Can I Help My Depressed Teen?
8 Quick Tips to Help Your Teenager Manage Their Mental Health
Each day in our nation, there are an average of more than 3,041 attempts by young people grades 9–12. According to research by The Jason Foundation, more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED.
I was a youth pastor for a decade, and I can tell you that no one was talking about teen mental health.
Before that, I was a teen with depression and PTSD. But neither my parents nor my church ever talked about mental health.
Since publishing From Pastor to a Psych Ward, I receive emails regularly from parents looking for resources to help their depressed teens. As a result, I’ve compiled six years of conversations into one concise blog post with 14 quick tips to help depressed teens.
Suicide prevention begins with you and me. Please share this blog with parents, teachers, youth pastors, and anyone else you know who cares about a teenager.
(You can also download my Amazon bestseller, From Pastor to a Psych Ward, FREE for a limited time. Keep reading for details.)
Q: Our 16-year-old daughter, Danielle, has been depressed over the past year. Although she’s a smart kid and has always done well in school, we are having trouble getting her out of bed to get ready and go to school in the mornings. The getting-up problem has been happening over the last couple of months. Now, her grades are starting to fall. I’m afraid she’s getting worse.
We’ve told her she has to go to school or else she’ll flunk out. It’s like she’s not even listening to us. She just says, “Okay, I will,” and then the next day it’s the same thing all over again. Plus, her relationship with my wife (her mother), Sherry, is not good. She either ignores her mom or screams at her. Since I work, I can’t be home all the time to referee their disagreements. What can I do to help Danielle?
A: You have good reason to be concerned about Danielle’s recent change in her school behaviors. You and Sherry could have a talk with Danielle to see if she will open up and reveal if anything, in particular, is troubling her. Sometimes teenage depression is triggered by actual situations or events. Other times, no triggers can be identified. Since warning her about what might happen in the future, like flunking out of school, hasn’t helped change her behavior, perhaps you could ask her one or two open-ended questions to see if she’ll share what’s going on with her.
For example, you might say, “Mom and I are pretty concerned about you. It seems like you’re not interested in going to school anymore. Why is that?” No matter what she says next, it’s important to just listen to what she has to say. She may disclose she’s struggling with a particular teacher or her friends. Maybe she’s afraid or worried about something. Although she may say she doesn’t know what’s wrong, it’s at least helpful to ask the question and listen carefully to her answer, as doing so shows your concern. When a teen is depressed to the point of missing school, it’s a good plan to have a professional involved.
Q: I see. Maybe she’ll tell us truthfully what’s going on if we’re careful how we talk to her. She already goes to a therapist. Is it possible it’s not helping?
A: Anything is possible. However, if Danielle attends her appointments consistently, the therapist is hopefully helping Danielle identify and address issues of concern. As Danielle’s parents, recognize it’s also necessary for you to keep some continuing contact with the therapist. The therapist needs to be apprised of any changes (for the better or worse) that you notice about Danielle. This way, the therapist is well-informed about Danielle’s progress and so are you.
Q: Is it essential for me or my wife to go in to see the therapist? She has asked us to come in before, but we told her that Danielle is really the problem.
A: Actually, the situation often improves when the parents cooperate with whatever the therapist recommends. Call the therapist and tell her that you and your wife are now willing to come in to discuss Danielle’s condition and be a part of her treatment. The more you cooperate with the therapist, the more information the therapist has about your family dynamics. The therapist can do her best work if she knows about how Danielle relates to you, her mother, and to any siblings in the house, as well as reports about her school attendance and involvement.
Q: I guess we haven’t been too cooperative on that front. What about Danielle’s schooling? I hate for her to get behind and ruin her grades.
A: You bring up an important issue. It’s wise to contact Danielle’s school guidance counselor about what is going on with Danielle and why she’s missing so much school. The counselor or other school officials might make some recommendations about how to best ensure Danielle continues to get her education, so she doesn’t fall behind during this challenging time. For example, some school districts can send tutors, free of charge, to your home for a few hours a few times a week to assist Danielle to keep up with her assignments.
Q: I just don’t understand why Danielle is getting worse right now. She’s on medication for depression. Do you think it should be changed?
A: Regardless of the age of the person, anyone who’s on psychotropic medication — medicine that alters how you think and feel — should be monitored closely by a psychiatrist. Does Danielle also receive treatment, as well as prescriptions, from a psychiatrist regularly? Although many general and family physicians are quite willing to prescribe psychotropic drugs, it’s recommended that a psychiatrist is involved. Psychiatrists are medical doctors with specialized training in mental disorders, such as depression.
Because of the vast differences in types of antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and anti-psychotic meds, psychiatrists can make the most informed decisions about which meds to prescribe.
Q: It seems like there are all these professionals involved and it’s getting expensive! How can we keep them all straight and informed about Danielle’s condition?
A: Yes, mental health treatment can be extraordinarily complicated in the event you’re working separately with a psychiatrist and a therapist. A valuable and cost-effective way to obtain mental health treatment is to work with an agency or psychiatric practice which employs a psychiatrist, a registered nurse or nurse practitioner, and a licensed mental health professional (counselor or therapist) who work together as a team to provide effective outpatient treatment. When all of the professionals work together in the same office, patient information is kept confidential within the practice, yet team members can share information about patients among themselves when it’s helpful.
For example, if you phoned the therapist and let her know about Danielle’s increasing symptoms of depression, the therapist can speak with the psychiatrist or nurse about the situation. This way, the doctor can be quickly notified to make medication adjustments, too, if necessary. Depending on your state’s guidelines, a nurse practitioner in the practice can often oversee the medications and make adjustments as needed for a lower fee than if the psychiatrist had altered the meds.
The team approach is valuable, lower cost in many cases, and brings the expertise of an entire team to work together to provide support to Danielle and your family. In the event you find yourself struggling to afford Danielle’s mental health bills, talk with the therapist, nurse practitioner, or psychiatrist about a fee adjustment. Many therapists will work with clients to lower fees to more affordable rates. If that isn’t possible in Danielle’s case, you could also seek mental health assistance through your local or state mental health center. Such programs typically charge on a sliding fee scale and offer professional help at a lower cost.
Q: Is there anything else that my wife and I can do to help Danielle? We’re so worried about her.
A: It’s understandable that you would be concerned and it shows that you’re loving and caring parents. Here are 8 quick tips regarding actions you and Danielle’s mom can take to help Danielle through this challenging time:
- Make efforts to consistently have someone in the house with Danielle. This way, she knows that someone is physically there with her.
- Carry on with family schedules and traditions. Normalize Danielle’s home life as much as possible. For example, continue eating meals together at the dinner table with the expectation that Danielle is there.
- Have a Family Night every week. Just hang out at home and do something together, like cooking dinner or playing Monopoly. It may be old-fashioned, but it will provide time for you all to sit down together, relate with each other, and play something as a family.
- Do things with Danielle she enjoys doing. Plan activities like going to the park, taking a walk, or making a beaded necklace. Whatever her interests, arrange the time to pursue them.
- Ask your teen to help you with a task. Whether it’s peeling the potatoes, setting the table, or washing the car, eliciting her efforts is a subtle reminder that she’s part of a loving, caring family.
- Encourage Danielle’s friends to stop in and spend some time with her. As long as you’re sure her friends are supportive and provide positive role models for her, help her stay in frequent contact with them. Seeing her friends will cheer her up and encourage her to cooperate with treatment to gain back her normal teenage life.
- Provide consistent verbal reassurance to Danielle. Let her know that you’re here for her and that the family is willing to do whatever is necessary to ensure she can heal. Assure her that she’s going to get better and remind her she won’t be a teenager forever and that she’ll soon feel healthy again.
- Be positive. When Danielle does as you ask, even if it’s something small, let her know you appreciate it. As you exercise these strategies, you’ll likely notice gradual changes for the better in Danielle’s mood and behavior. Ensuring the family consistently follows through with treatment recommendations and continues to relate positively together are the best strategies to help your daughter regain a healthier emotional life.
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Hi. I’m Steve.
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