Self-Help Strategies for Depressed Teens

Teaching Teens (and yourself) Strategies for Coping with Stress

Self-Help Strategies for Depressed Teens

Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced stress. If you don’t have your hand raised, we hate to break it to you: no one is immune to stress. Not you, and especially not the teens in your life.

In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, teens reported levels of stress higher than levels reported by adults! If these stress levels aren’t concerning enough, consider that 30% of these teens reported being depressed or sad as a result of their stress.

What can caring adults do? We can implement strategies that encourage youth to take better care of themselves so that they are less vulnerable to the negative symptoms of stress (e.g., muscle aches, headaches, worried thoughts, etc.). You might even pick up some new skills yourself.

Set Limits

Believe it or not, young people want and need limits. Developmentally, teens tend to focus on the present with limited ability to consider long-term consequences. For example, a teen may want to stay up late to play a video game without thinking about how tired they will be at school the next day. It’s often about the short-term gain—which can lead to longer-term pain.

Work with your teen to create reasonable boundaries together. Consider setting limits around a teen’s access to social media and screens (TV, computer, and phone).

Be respectful and practice active listening so you really hear what your teen is saying about their concerns and priorities, and collaborate on how to address those issues.

Once you come to an agreement, continue to check in and highlight how setting limits positively impacts day-to-day life.

Spend Time with Positive People

Not all social groups are enjoyable. Teens (and adults) can feel immense pressure to look and act a certain way around their peers. It may not seem it, but who we spend our free time with is a choice.

Help your teen think about the people in their life that make them laugh, feel at ease, and provide caring support. Make a list of these people together and encourage your teen to seek these people out.  If your teen is looking for new ways to connect with positive peers you might suggest joining a new club or volunteering with a local organization.

Try Gratitude

We know, trying to practice gratitude seems an idealistic coping strategy, but it really works. Gratitude is the act of intentionally naming things in your life that you appreciate. Learning to pay attention to the good parts of life can improve quality of life over time.

You can practice gratitude a few different ways, but it’s usually great to start right when you wake up, right when you go to bed, or both! Think of two to three things and name them out loud or write them down. Some families have a “gratitude” jar where they write their gratitude of the day on a card and collect them all month. At the end of the month they read them together as a family.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to the present moment without judgment. When you practice mindfulness, you are aware of sensations in your body, what you’re thinking, and how you are feeling. You learn to notice your experiences and thoughts without attaching a label.

Many of us tend to focus on the past or the present, but rarely think about the current moment. Learning to do an internal scan throughout the day can help teens focus on what they can control in that moment rather than things that already happened or could happen. For some more ideas on mindfulness, read “Ways You Can Encourage and Support Teen Wellness.”

Focus on Realistic Goals and Achievements

While it’s good for teens to have future plans, sometimes planning can get overwhelming. Goals going off to college, learning a trade, and being a top performer in a chosen sport or activity are wonderful, but take a lot of time and hard work to achieve. Help teens break down big goals into small victories that encourage motivation over time.

For example, your son has a major test in two weeks and really wants to get a good grade.

Break up the goal in to smaller steps identifying what will be on the test, creating flash cards, studying 30 minutes a day for two weeks, getting well-rested before the test, having a good breakfast in the morning, and finally taking the test! Make sure you and your son recognize each achievement and see how the small steps lead to the bigger goal.

Pay Attention to Sleep, Exercise, and Eating (SEE)

As we hinted above, neglect of daily activities sleep, exercise, and eating contributes to stress. Teens need roughly 8 to 10 hours of sleep to perform their best. How many of our teens are really getting that much sleep? Think about what you and your teen can control and try to make changes that may improve quantity and quality of sleep.

Exercise is one of the top ways to reduce stress! While some youth embrace exercise through sports, not all are so inclined. Exercise can be intimidating for some and entirely unappealing to others. Try things taking a brisk walk, kicking a soccer ball, following along to an exercise video, or even something hula hooping!

Eating plays a major role in wellness. Some youth skip breakfast to get more sleep. Others may choose foods that don’t hold a lot of nutritional value. Remember that food turns into fuel for our youths’ developing brains. While we don’t recommend specific diets, try to include your teen in healthy meal planning and work together to find meals that are nutrient-rich and satiating.

Schedule Family Time

Sometimes family can be a source of stress for teens.

Do you ever have planned and expected time where everyone can let loose, play, and enjoy one another’s company? Activities playing games, watching movies, making an art project, conducting a science experiment, preparing a new recipe, or exploring nature can help everyone relax and foster connection. Family time doesn’t have to be every week, even carving out time once a month can make a world of difference.

These are but a few of the many different ways you and your teen can practice coping skills to manage stress. Remember, stress is inevitable, but what you do with your stress is a choice. Be proactive and create habits that help you identify and release distress and tension.

Additional Resources


Practical strategies to help your teenager with depression — ReachOut Parents

Self-Help Strategies for Depressed Teens

Adolescence is known for its mood swings and rebellion. However, you might find that your child has become particularly emotional or self-critical. These changes might be signs of depression and, if so, it’s important to explore what might be going on.

There is support available to help your teen with depression – and the earlier the better. It may be a long road, with setbacks along the way; but with the right support, you can get the most appropriate treatment for teenage depression.

Talking to your teen about depression

If you notice some of the signs of depression in your child, it’s important to talk to them about it. Non-judgmental communication with your teenager about their health won’t do any harm, and if there is something more serious going on then you’ve already taken the first step together towards getting help.

When you talk to your child, be specific about what you’ve noticed and why it’s worrying you. For example, you might say: ‘You haven’t been playing basketball recently. Is everything okay?’ Or: ‘I’ve noticed that you’ve been sleeping in longer than normal recently. Is there anything you want to chat about?’

Ask them if anything is going on for them that they’d to talk about. Your teenager might not open up right away, but you’ll be planting the seed for them to talk about it, and this will be important when they’re ready to open up. At first, they may say that nothing is wrong. Teenagers often don’t connect their feelings and behaviours with experiencing depression.

Some things to consider when talking to your child about depression:

  • Listen openly. Don’t overwhelm your teenager with questions. Try to avoid lecturing them or giving them an ultimatum. The important thing is to get your child talking about what they’re going through, and letting them know you are there to listen. Talking about depression can be hard for anyone, so if your child shuts you out at first, respect that they might not be ready to talk.
  • Validate their feelings. This isn’t your experience, so even if your teen’s thoughts and feelings seem silly or irrational to you, it’s important not to downplay them. Acknowledge what your teenager is describing, to ensure that they feel comfortable opening up to you.
  • Offer your support. Let your child know that you’re there to support them, no matter what. Listen to and work with them to figure out the support that’s best for them.

How to help and support a teen with depression

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ treatment for depression. Everyone experiences it differently and needs different types of support. Be open to learning what the different options are, and work with your child to help them decide which one will best suit them.

If your child’s depression is significantly affecting their life, it’s best to see a mental health professional, such as a psychologist. If the depression is mild, or if your child isn’t open to seeing a professional, there are lifestyle changes and self-management options that can be a good first step.

Talking therapies

Your GP will be able to refer you to a psychologist under the Better Access Scheme through Medicare, which gives you ten subsidised sessions per calendar year. A health professional can work with your child over several sessions to manage their depression. Your teenager can also speak to a school counsellor or youth worker.

Online and phone support

Depending on your circumstances and your teenager’s preferences, helplines for teenage depression, available online or on the phone, might be a better fit. These forms can also be great for times when face-to-face help isn't available, such as at night, between appointments or when it’s difficult to get to a clinic. There are lots of different options:

Lifestyle changes

A healthy lifestyle is an important part of managing depression. You can help your child to make healthy lifestyle changes by:


Anti-depressants can be prescribed by a GP or other medical professional. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the side-effects, and whether they are the right choice for your child.

Often the most effective way to treat teen depression is to use a range of different strategies, rather than rely on just one thing. Talk with your child and a mental health professional about the options that are available.

Common reactions to learning your teen has depression

It’s heartbreaking to see your child struggling. You may feel powerless if they don’t want to talk to you about what is happening for them. Your support is vital, but you may not be able to directly influence their mood.

This doesn’t mean that you’re a bad parent! In these circumstances, your own mental health is particularly important and it may be helpful to talk to a professional about what is going on for you and ways to look after yourself, so that you’re in the best place to support your child.

It might help you to think of depression as being a broken arm: your child has a broken arm; they are not a broken arm. wise, your child has depression; they are not depression.

Just as you wouldn’t hesitate to seek help for your child’s broken arm, confident that they will heal, having the same attitude towards depression will help your child realise that there is no need to feel ashamed, afraid or embarrassed.

Stigma and misunderstanding about depression can stop people from getting the help they need – imagine not getting help for a broken arm! Be positive and optimistic that you will find the help your child needs for depression.

Be prepared that it might take some time, but feel confident that you will both get to a place where your child can be well again.


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