What to Say to a Depressed Teen

Depression is a medical condition requiring medical care. It can be so hard to watch someone you love, especially your child, go through depression. You want to help them, encourage them, cure them. Unfortunately, depression isn’t something that can just be fixed. You can learn more about teen depression by reading one of our previous blogs.

It is crucial that someone with depression receives medical treatment. Beyond getting them treatment, it’s also important that you support that person by letting them know you care, being willing to listen, asking them to join you in daily activities, and praising them for small accomplishments. But sometimes, living with someone with depression can be incredibly frustrating and/or confusing. We may not know what to say or we may not realize that what we say could make our child feel worse. Here are some tips from the experts about what are some good things to say or not say:

Do Not Trivialize

Well meaning people often attempt to immediately fix the problem. They might say “have you tried aromatherapy?” or “take a hot bath – that’s what I do when I’m upset.” Depression is not a bad mood – it is a medical condition. No one can just “shake it off” so do not belittle the illness or make them feel that it is not important.

Notice your tone and phrasing when you are talking to your child. Instead of snapping, “you are all upset about nothing – what’s your problem?” try saying calmly “you seem to be finding this issue to be a big deal right now – what can I do to help?”

Here are a few phrases that the experts recommend you do NOT say to a depressed person:

  • There’s always someone worse off than you are.
  • No one ever said that life was fair.
  • It’s your own fault. You’re always so negative.
  • Believe me, I know how you feel. I was depressed once for several days.
  • Haven’t you grown tired of all this “me, me, me” stuff yet?
  • It’s all in your mind.
  • I thought you were stronger than that.
  • Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

Be On Their Side

Someone who is depressed loses perspective. Pointing out that they are feeling sorry for themselves will not help. Instead here are some phrases that will offer reassurance, sympathy and kindness:

  • I love you for who you are, and I am not going to leave you.
  • We are a team. I am on your side. (This is an especially helpful phrase when your child insinuates that you are ruining their life, or some other hurtful comment.)
  • You are important to me.
  • I can’t imagine how hard it is for you, but I want to help in any way I can.
  • You’re not alone in this. I am always here for you.
  • When all this is over, I’ll still be here and so will you.
  • You are a sensitive person who cares for others. (Many people suffering with depression no longer recognize their positive attributes, so it’s helpful to point them out.)

Take Care of Yourself

Finally, recognize that being the caretaker of a depressed person can be consuming. If you don’t take care of yourself, you may fall prey to depression yourself. It is ok to say, “I am committed to you and to helping you. But I also need to eat / shop / go out for coffee / visit a friend / see a movie to recharge my batteries. Then I can look after you better.” Arrange for someone else to spend time with your child, and then take a break so that you can be better able to help them.

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