Treating Teen Depression: The Most Effective Approach

Psychotherapists report that depression is the most common mental illness that they see in their practice. Despite this, there is still question about the most effective methods of treating teen depression. Specifically, what are the best ways to encourage a depressed teen towards recognizing dysfunctional thoughts, regulating their emotions, and finding hope long enough to move through depression into a lasting sense of happiness?

Treating Teen Depression

These are the clinical questions that a psychotherapist or psychologist asks when faced with a depressed client. However, when a teen is experiencing depression and he or she has not yet made it into therapy, there are many forms of self-medication that will easily become habitual as a way to manage the difficult symptoms. According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, these are alcohol, drug use, painkillers, comfort food, promiscuity, self-mutilation, excessive sleeping, and planning suicide. All of these can be a form of escape when the feelings of sadness, unworthiness, loneliness, shame, anger, or a combination of these become overwhelming.


The mental health field currently recognizes that the combination of the right medication along with therapy as the best form of treating teen depression. A common form of medication is SSRI’s. They are antidepressants that are incredibly effective, but they do come with risks. For teens in particular, it is essential to know that anti-depressants can cause suicidal thoughts and even attempts at suicide. This doesn’t mean to dismiss medication as a treatment modality, but to keep this risk at the center of your discussion with a psychiatrist. Of course, anyone taking psychotropic medication should be closely monitored, especially at the beginning of treatment.


However, medication alone is not a thorough treatment plan. Medication merely addresses the psychological symptoms of depression. Therapy becomes necessary to address the underlying issues that led to the depression in the first place. Therapy and other forms of psychological and emotional support can facilitate making the necessary lifestyle changes that will bring long lasting health. This treatment combination can help stabilize a teen’s mood and allow he or she to a healthy level of functioning at school, home, and work.


Sadly, depression continues to be a common mental illness among teens. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately, 8% of teens meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression. Across the length of adolescence, one in five teens have experienced teen depression at some point in their teenage years. NAMI also points out that in clinical settings, such as group homes, hospitals, or rehabilitative centers, as many as 28 percent of teens experience depression.


Symptoms of depression include:

  • A depressed mood
  • Irritability
  • Guilt
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Social withdrawal
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Poor concentration
  • Poor memory
  • Indecision
  • Slow thinking
  • Loss of motivation
  • Sleep disturbance – insomnia / hypersomnia
  • Appetite disturbance – weight loss/gain
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Constipation


Despite knowing the best method of treatment teen depression and the symptoms that are common with this mental illness, a psychotherapist is always reaching for the most effective therapeutic approach. One of the most essential and important ways to facilitate change in a teen’s life is through the therapeutic alliance he or she has with a teen.


A psychotherapist can facilitate a teen’s maturity, independence, and autonomy. The trusting relationship that an adolescent and a psychotherapist have together can encourage a teen to monitor thoughts that lead to a depressed mood. For instance, with a compassionate and strong relationship with a therapist, a teen might be more inclined to complete a daily thought diary, which facilitates the examination of which thoughts and beliefs lead to a depressed mood.


A therapist can help a teen identify behaviors, thoughts, and emotions that keep them stuck in the past, and facilitate their journey into the future. Lastly, if the relationship between a teen and a therapist is secure, therapy can be a strong source of support when circumstances at home or school get rough. It is the strength of this relationship that can make all the difference in healing from teen depression.



“NAMI – The National Alliance on Mental Illness.” NAMI. Web. 02 Mar. 2014.

Vann, Madeline. “Depression Treatment: The Worst — And Best — Ways To Treat Depression.” The Huffington Post Canada. 03 Oct. 2012. Web. 03 Mar. 2014.