Healthy Kids     K-12    

Child Behavior: Ways to treat adolescent depression

Our kids need more adult guidance

In truth, more than ever, today’s adolescents may need adult guidance to help them understand the personal and interpersonal changes and pressures they’re experiencing.  

Your child changes physically, emotionally, socially and psychologically. These changes may produce the “blues” or “moodiness” parents often encounter with adolescents.

Many factors can bring on depression

Researchers have noted that some people have an “imbalance” of certain brain chemicals called neurotransmitters that may cause depression or make them more prone to it.  Or it could be a family history of depression or a recent death or divorce. The importance of recognizing and treating adolescent depression is critical:  While suicide in depressed young children in exceedingly rare, it is a very real possibility.

Forms of adolescent depression

Not all adolescents display the same type of symptoms or the same degree. Some depressed adolescents experience a depressive disorder called “bipolar disorder” wherein they alternate between extreme highs and lows of emotion. Others don’t experience highs and lows and are just continuously sad.

Adolescents often lack the ability to ask for help

Adolescence is a period where a degree of moodiness and withdrawal from family is normal, and it is often difficult for a parent to discern the normal moodiness of adolescence from real depression.  Additionally adolescents often lack the introspection to understand what they are feeling and experiencing, and may lack the ability or desire to communicate their feelings—leaving them reluctant to seek help.

Adolescents may look to drugs for self-treatment

Depression in adolescents is a very serious disorder, and, to avert potential suicidal attempts or dangerous self-destructive behaviors, depressed adolescents may try to alleviate their feelings by turning to drugs as a form of self-treatment.

Widely used and successful treatments include:

Medication:  Many adolescents benefit from one of the numerous medications prescribed by psychiatrists, available for depression, conjointly with some type of therapy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:  This type of therapy helps to correct negative or self-defeating ways of “thinking,” such as unrealistic expectations or irrational thoughts that lead to depressive feelings and has been found to be extremely beneficial.

Psychotherapy:  Although there are many forms of “talk therapy,” they all look to give adolescents an opportunity to explore and understand their thoughts and feelings.  Therapy may also help them talk about and resolve the feelings that are painful or troubling to them – as well as help them understand how they can develop healthier relationships with people and “cope” with the stresses and frustrations they might be experiencing.

If you suspect that your adolescent is clinically depressed, you should consult a mental-health professional for prompt treatment. 


Paul Schwartz, Ph.D. is a professor of psychology and education at Mount Saint Mary College.

Other articles by Paul Schwartz