Teenage depression

8min read

drawn graphic of teenager feeling sad with the words feeling tired, eating less, persistent sadness and trouble sleeping around them

If your teenager is showing signs of depression, you may find yourself wondering whether it's 'just a phase' or something more serious. 

Key Points:

  • Try to give your child lots of reassurance by active listening and really hearing what they are saying to you
  • Take things at their pace as they may not be ready to do everything all at once. It is all about taking tiny steps and making realistic plans
  • Make an appointment with your GP as soon as you can so they can access help and a referral for counselling or therapy

Recognising the symptoms

A key indication that your child is struggling with depression is if their feelings are impacting their ability to enjoy normal life. Knowing what symptoms to look out for is important as this will alert you to any concerns. Here are some suggestions:

  • Have they lost interest in activities they have previously enjoyed?
  • Have they become more withdrawn?
  • Do they avoid social situations?
  • Have they lost interest in going to school?
  • Are they struggling to concentrate?
  • Have their sleeping or eating habits changed?
  • Have their hygiene habits changed, for example, are they washing less?
  • Do they seem more tired and lacking in energy?
  • Have they become more tearful?
  • Do they talk about being lonely and hopeless?
  • Are they angrier, frustrated or easily irritated?
  • Are they being critical of themselves?
  • Are they struggling with self-harm or suicidal thoughts?

What can I do if I am worried my teen might have depression?

If you have noticed a change in your child’s mood and are worried, talking with them about it is very important. This may be difficult for you to do because you are feeling overwhelmed and anxious yourself, which is understandable, however, don’t shy away from it.  If you are struggling, imagine what they might be feeling.

Here are a few tips to help you start a difficult conversation:

Think about where to have the conversation. Choosing a time and place when they are feeling relaxed is important.  For example, these conversations may be easier when you are doing a gentle activity like travelling in the car or doing the washing up. Avoiding direct eye contact can be helpful to teenagers, as this will feel less threatening for them.

Think about how you might open the conversation. You need to show them that you are not judging them for how they are feeling and you want to help them feel better. For example, you could say something like: “I have noticed that you don’t seem yourself at the moment” or “I am worried there is something going on for you and wonder if you are struggling to tell me about it?”.

Identify a behaviour. This can be useful in helping your child understand why you are concerned. For example, if you have noticed your child becoming more easily upset or if they are struggling to get out of bed, say this to them in a concerned and loving way.

Remind them how much you love them. Talking about thoughts and feelings can be overwhelming, especially if they are confusing, frightening or embarrassing. Reminding your child that, no matter what, you love them and you want to help them through this difficult time, will make all the difference. You will be sending your child a clear message that they are not alone.

Reassure them things will get better. With the right help, things will get better and they are not going to feel this way forever.

Be patient. If your child struggles to open up, don’t worry. Don’t get frustrated or put pressure on them. Just reassure them that you understand how difficult this must be for them.  You can then try again another day and start by saying “I wonder if you’ve been able to think about what I said the other day, I am still concerned about you”. Alternatively, encourage them to identify a trusted adult like a youth worker, teacher or family friend, who they might feel more comfortable opening up to about their feelings.

Seeking support 

If you are worried, seek support from your child’s GP. The doctor will be able to talk through the symptoms and explore your child’s thoughts and feelings with them. They will be able to refer your child, if needed, and recommend local services. Young Minds have a helpful article on what steps may be taken. 

Further resources

It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at askus@familylives.org.uk or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.  

Other organisations that can help

Your teen may find it helpful to visit the Childline website

Give us a shout provides support to young people if they are struggling with their mental health 24/7 via a text service 

You can search for a local youth counselling service on the Youth Access website

‚ÄčVisit the NHS website about teen depression