The Antidote for Adolescent Depression – Five Steps to Help Your Teen

The Antidote for Adolescent Depression

Teenagers today are suffering from clinical depression at an alarming rate. In 2020, the National Institute of Mental Health has found the 17% of adolescents between 12 and 17 years of age had been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. Some teenagers struggle with overwhelming feelings of sadness or chronic irritability, while others grapple with nagging feelings of emptiness and a profound lack of internal motivation. Most teens spend countless hours glued to their cellphones or engaged in activities solely for the purpose of padding their college applications. Some soothe their low mood or overwhelming anxiety with drugs, alcohol, food (or restricting food) or sex.

Many of our kids are overscheduled and feel pressured to excel in academics or athletics. They often have little down time with their family and suffer from exhaustion, an inability to focus on the activity at hand and a fragmented sense of who they are and what they want. Some teenagers feel like they don’t fit in with their peers or are overwhelmed in the face of social media, drugs and alcohol, or their developing sexuality.

Adolescence will always be a roller-coaster ride but it doesn’t have to be a nightmare for teens and parents alike. As parents, we need to manage the culprits that push the normal stress and mood swings of adolescence into the unmanageable zone.  Most importantly, we need to use our relationship with our kids as the antidote to their pain.

Here are 5 steps that parents can take to combat the normal malaise, as well as the sometimes-excruciating agony of adolescence:

  1. Take the long way home: Spend unrushed time with your teenager. Make this a priority in your busy schedule. Put your phone away and talk with them. Share your own painful or embarrassing experiences and, to the degree that they will talk, shut-up and listen.
  1. Be curious about your teen: Try to see who they are and what they are struggling with at any given time. Their conflicts and stressors yesterday may be old news by this morning. Ask them often about their friends, their interests, their politics, and their causes de jour. Resist assigning rigid roles to any of your children, i.e. the smart one, the athletic one, the sensitive one.
  1. Like them, don’t just love them: Embrace their quirks and idiosyncrasies, including their ever-changing passions and hobbies. Focus on their strengths and avoid pressuring them to obsess about their performance or to adopt a perfectionist attitude.
  1. Encourage their voice: Help them cultivate their own voice with your interest and curiosity. Welcome your teenager’s anger, criticism, and disappointment by just listening and fighting the urge to defend yourself.  What they able to express in words, won’t fester within them.
  1. Insist on kindness and focus on character: Too often we spend our energy trying to enhance our teen’s performance rather than cultivating their character. Often, with the pressures of our busy lives, it is not in the forefront of our mind to model traits such as kindness and integrity. Kindness is a cornerstone of character, and both are the gifts that keeps on giving.

A Nod to the Unconscious: Developmentally, a teenager’s job is to try on different identities and see what feels most “like me”. This can be exceptionally confusing for kids. It is also their job to begin to separate from their parents, which can be both frightening and lonely for them.  Understanding this will help you be patient with your teen’s push/pull attitude towards you and their almost radical need, for the moment, to reject everything about you.

Sometimes therapy and/or medication is necessary when teens feel sad or depressed for an extended period of time.  Often, however, parents’ investment in their adolescent as an evolving person, not just as student or an athlete, can make all the difference.

Our kids are navigating treacherous waters as they cross the bridge from childhood to young adulthood.  We need to be their gentle guides, their models and perhaps most importantly, their soft place to land when all doesn’t go according to plan.  Let your children know that you love them unconditionally, and that regardless of the fluorescent color of their hair, their choice of pronouns or their SAT score, you always will. 

Beth Feldman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and relational analyst, with specialized training in the treatment of substance abuse and eating disorders.  Dr. Feldman is an expert in parenting strategies and offers her unique “Sane Parenting in a Crazy World”.  consulting to parents globally. Beth is a frequent contributor to media and speaks publicly on numerous topics, including relationship and parenting issues, depression and anxiety management, and the secret to energizing personal change. For more information, visit




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