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You think your teen is depressed. Now what?

May 10, 2013

On , we discussed the statistics behind depression in teens and the warning signs to look for if you think your teen is depressed. Let’s now look at some next steps in getting help for your child.

Finding help through professionals

Finding a good mental health professional is like finding any good healthcare provider. Some of them you might like, some you might not. Some of them might have specialties, like working with teens, adults, or couples, so you’ll want to ask questions to make sure this is a person that is likely to be helpful. Look for a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, or a Psychologist.

A good place to start is to visit with a counselor, psychologist, social worker, or a doctor. Schedule a visit with your child’s regular primary doctor or pediatrician and share your concerns. Your doctor should be able to recommend a counselor who would be a good fit for your child. If you are knowledgeable about local counselors, contact one and find out if they work with teens. Many insurances include coverage for mental health care. There are also many companies that offer EAP services (Employee Assistance Programs), and often extend their counseling services to family members.

What are the different treatment options?

Most research indicates that successful treatment for teens with depression combines counseling and medication. Other terms that are commonly used in place of “counseling” are “therapy” and “psychotherapy”, but it’s all pretty much the same thing. Medications that are found to be most helpful are antidepressant medications, specifically SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). The purpose of SSRI’s is to regulate the chemicals made in the brain that affect our moods. Research has shown that people who are clinically depressed have differing amounts of these chemicals. SSRI’s help the body find the right balance for these chemicals. This leads to the body feeling better, which leads to the depressed mood improving.

The length of time needed for counseling and/or medication differs from person to person. Some teens may do well with counseling alone and may not need medication. Other will benefit from both. A doctor will prescribe medication. Some pediatricians may feel comfortable prescribing antidepressants, however, if yours is not, a visit to psychiatrist may be in order. A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in mental health disorders.

Relief from the physical symptoms of depression typically come pretty quickly for most teens when they take medication, which allows for the counselor to have quicker success in working with them on processing their feelings and underlying reasons for depression.  Some teens can be successfully treated if they are consistent with their counseling and medication routines quickly, sometimes in as little as a few months.

What to do when it’s a crisis

If a teen comes to you and they report suicidal thoughts, plans, or intentions, as scary as it might be, listen to them. It’s always better to take these types of situations seriously, rather than shrug it off. In a survey of high school students, the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center found that almost 1 in 5 teens had thought about suicide, about 1 in 6 teens had made plans for suicide, and more than 1 in 12 teens had attempted suicide in the last year. As many as 8 out of 10 teens who commit suicide try to ask for help in some way before committing suicide, such as by seeing a doctor shortly before the suicide attempt.

If you are with a teen that you feel is in danger of hurting themselves, ask them if they are suicidal. Be a part of their support system and advocate for them to get help. If you work at a school, contact appropriate staff to meet with the student immediately. Contact their family, so they can contact their doctor and their counselor. If the teen is suicidal at that time, contact 911 for immediate assistance. A suicidal teen may be taken to a hospital or a mental health facility for immediate treatment and care.

Let’s lower the number of teens who do not seek help

Many times, family and friends of a teen with depression think that the teen will “snap out of it” or that their mood is just part of the roller coaster ride that is part of being a teen. Many people don’t realize that depression is a real medical condition that can and should be treated. Over the years, I have had many conversations with teens (and their parents) that doubt the legitimacy of their depression. There is a stigma associated with counseling, the idea that “only crazy people” go to counseling and that antidepressant medications are “happy pills.” All of these things play a part in teens not getting the care that they need. I try to empower the teens I work with everyday to speak up about how they are feeling and encourage their families to support them.

Depression can be debilitating. Serious depression can be life threatening for teens. I have seen depressed adolescents’ lives change 180 degrees through counseling and medication. The transformation is amazing. Let’s work together to bring awareness, respect, and treatment to all that need it.


24 Hour Crisis Hotline- Lifeline of Central Florida (407) 425-2624

Mental Health Crisis Facilities-

South Seminole Hospital

555 W State Road 434

Longwood, FL 32750(407) 767-1200

Lakeside Behavioral Healthcare

1800 Mercy DriveOrlando, FL 32808407-875-3700

For more information, visit:

The National Institute of Mental Health website

The PsychCentral website