teen boy

By Dennis Dewen


Dear parent with a depressed teenager


Don’t worry so much about your teen’s depression. It can be easy to treat. Your teen can be happy again. Depressed teens have within them the resources to heal themselves. These resources have only to be woken up. I’m going to suggest you six ways in which you can help your depressed teenager while they heal.

First: Don’t pressure

Modern society gets us used to seeking instant gratification of whatever we want. This makes us unable to work for things that require time. We can still seek something that takes time to obtain, but we get nervous or we don’t see the point in it.

Your teen’s depression is a good opportunity to learn to enjoy both instant gratifications and long term ones.

Depression is the result of an intense yet carefully repressed feeling of fear that, eventually, manifests itself in the characteristic symptoms of this illness. Dorothy Rowe explains how this happens in her Beyond Fear. I recommend reading this book.

This fear has to be drained away little by little. This requires time. In particular, this requires that your teen is given all the time needed. No deadline, no expectation, no pressure should disturb the natural process of healing.

Second: Suspend judgments

If your A judgment is very stressing because it produces fear. When judged, your teen unconsciously thinks: “Will mum and dad still love me if I fail to comply with their judgments?” This produces more fear.

Fear is what depression is made of. Depressed teens need to drain it away, they don’t need more of it.

Third: Don’t pressure socialisation

Don’t pressure your depressed teenager to socialise. They need rest and absence of fear. Socializing can be stressful because it may be associated with pressure to perform.

Let them decide: they know better than us. Maybe they have friends with whom they don’t feel pressured to perform.

Fourth: Suspend the punishments-and-rewards pedagogy

If you use punishments and rewards to control your teen, it’s important to put them away for a while if your teen suffers from depression.

They are another source of fear. They may be effective in controlling your teen’s behaviour, but problems arise if we give them their true names.

Punishments are actually violence and rewards are actually bribery. Together, they are manipulation.

They create fear because they produce an unconscious question: “Do mum and dad really love me if they manipulate me?”

You will never hear teens explicitly articulate this question because they can’t live with the idea that you don’t love them; unfortunately the suspicion is there and produces fear.

If they are depressed, their fear is big and they don’t need more of it. Restrain your punishments-and-rewards pedagogy for a while; you can resume it later, when your teen recovers from depression.

In particular, don’t use punishments or rewards to persuade your depressed teenager to follow a prescribed therapy. This would be a mixed message which would do more harm than good.

Fifth: Suspend expectations

Expectations are one of the most important and immediate sources of psychological suffering.

They come in many forms.  Teens can be expected to:


  • behave
  • be good at school
  • be successful
  • perform socially
  • keep their rooms tidy
  • and more.


Expectations are hurtful for adults too. For some they are almost a matter of life and death. If they expect success and achievement and life fails to deliver them, it’s a tragedy.

But life is not supposed to live up to our expectations.When your teens are depressed, it’s time to put aside your expectations of them. Expectations are hurtful, they produce fear. Your depressed teen is thinking: “Why can’t my parents  love me if I fail to meet their expectations?” This is stressful and makes things worse.

Sixth: Do something for your nervousness

These days it seems that, if you aren’t nervous, you are from another planet. If nervousness is a problem for you, it’s good to take care of it. If you don’t take care of your nervousness, it’s like you say to your teen:

“Do you see? I take care of everything but myself. I don’t deserve to take care of myself and neither do you.”

This is a depressing message to send to your already depressed teen.

If you take care of yourself and of your nervousness, you send instead a message like:

“Do you see? I take care of myself, I deserve it and you deserve it too.”

This is a positive message that your depressed teen will welcome.


{module doctors notice}

Bruce Alan Kehr, M.D.

Bruce Alan Kehr, M.D. has served as Founder and President of Potomac Psychiatry since 1981. Washingtonian Magazine awarded him their “Top Doctor” designation from 2012 to 2017. He practices psychiatry and psychotherapy using “The Biopsychosocial Model” to treat the “Whole Person,” by understanding each individual’s unique genetic, biological, psychological, social, and life-stage characteristics. You can pre-order his new book, Becoming Whole: A Healing Companion to Ease Emotional Pain and Find Self-Love.
Bruce Alan Kehr, M.D.

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