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How to Help a Depressed Teenager

On various parts of the EQI.org site we have suggestions for how to help someone with depression. This page is writtten mainly for how to help a depressed teen, but it also collects general suggestions for what you can do whether it is a depressed friend or any other depressed person.

This is a new page to try to collect all the suggestions in one place.

- How to Help a Suicidal Teen

- Help Them Identify Feelings and Their Causes

- How to Help Someone Who is Depressed

- Helping Relationships

- What Doesn't help - Saying "It's just a phase"

- How to Help Someone Who Is Being Abused

Help Them Identify Feelings and Their Causes

Here is one example of using our list of common negative feelings to help a teenager. On this day a teen was feeling an urge to cut. To help her make it through the moment without cutting, we asked her to look at the list to see which feelings applied to her. Here are her responses:

ashamed,cut own, embarrassed, disrespected, labeled, powerless, alone, brushed off, lonely, misunderstood, unknown, invisible, accused, misled, disapproved of, over-protected, terrified, insecure, scared, suspicious

Here is a copy of the dialogue:

Helper: Helper: Wow. That is a lot.

Hurting teen: Yeah

Helper: Can you try to explain each one a little bit? Or some of them, the main ones maybe?

Hurting Teen: Ask me one

Helper: Ok, lets start at the beginning... ashamed, then cut down.

Hurting teen: Ok...I feel ashamed by being bisexual and cutting. And I feel cut down because people say things to make me feel like I'm not worth anything.

Helper: Like who says things that hurt you and make you feel worthless?

Hurting Teen: My dad's friends and this guy I have known a long time.

Helper: Like what do they say exactly?

Hurting Teen: They say I am such a bad person that I can't possibly really be my father's daughter.

Helper: What do they say is so bad about you?

Hurting Teen: Well, like that I am a cutter, and a smoker and I am bi


Helper: What do you feel suspicious about?

Hurting Teen: That no one likes me or loves me.

Example Two

Here is another example of using the list of common negative feelings. In this case the teen was being seen by social workers because her father had been sexually harassing her.

Helper says: look at the list and tell me which u feel at home, and if u want, add who u feel that way with.

Teen says: ok Stereotyped by my mum and dad, offended by my parents and brother and social workers and police

Helper says:
ok how do u feel sterotyped by ur mom

Teen says:
shes like oh teengers ur age.....

Teen says:
i just wana shout im not a teenager but im anna im not like everyone else. everones different

Helper says:

Helper says:
ur not like everyone else anna

Helper says:
i can see that

Teen says:
lectured to by my family

Teen says:

Teen says:
Bossed around
Imprisoned - parents

Teen says:
Alone, Ignored, Insignificant
Invisible Lonely
these words r really good they describe how i feel

Helper says:

Teen says:
Falsely accused
Lied about
Teen says:

Helper says:
who punishes u

Teen says:

Teen says:
Teen says:


Teen says:

A good friend or counselor would then help the person try to figure out the causes of the feelings and what would help them feel better in each case.

Here is a list adapted from http://www.netmums.com/coffeehouse/advice-support-40/pnd-support-55/220684-how-help-someone-depression.html

  • Show you care. Maybe write or send a note saying something like: "I just want you to know I am thinking of you and I'd like to help. If there is anything I can do, please tell me because I would feel better if I knew I was helping you. I care about you."
  • Try to be non-judgmental. The most valuable thing you can give someone is your time and the chance to talk, if they want to. Realise that you won't get much back, and you need to keep offering support even if it is pushed away.
  • Remember that people don't always tell you when they are depressed. They put on a brave, bright face even when they are cracking up inside.
  • Share her/his fears. If we are depressed we shut ourselves away, it's a desperate defense, for which we pay a heavy price. You can help by taking her/him by the hand and try to connect them back to the world.
  • This is NOT the time to start giving advice or come up with a plan for self-improvement. Maybe you can talk about occasions when you, too, have felt loneliness, discouragement and confusion.
  • Be patient. Depression has to run its course.
  • Reassure her/him she/he is not alone. You can help by lessening their isolation. Do it with cups of tea or long walks or sitting in their room or in a room nearby and staying silent. Help them feel in control by asking if it is okay if you stay there. If they can't talk, try holding their hand and asking them to squeeze once for yes and twice for no. Or once for yes and nothing for no.
  • There may be times when she/he is hostile and aggressive ("help me, help me - stay away!" is the message a depressed person gives), times when he/she won't answer the door or phone - your job is to keep trying, preventing isolation - leaving messages, send letters, turn up in person.
  • Depression may be the beginning - not the end. Perhaps this debilitating, energy-draining, all-consuming black hole serves a purpose. Perhaps we are being forced to make painful changes to our understanding.
  • "Depression is a dark room where we are developing the next chapter of our lives before living it" (Quote from poet Gwyneth Lewis).
  • "Depression is often a sign that life needs to be drastically changed" (Adapteed from Philip Toynbee)
  • Sometimes we are like animals who, if we are to finish the journey, need to retire to a safe place to let our wounds heal. Recovery is painful. But it may be necessary for our survival.
  • Give your friend practical help: Someone who is depressed may find it hard to get dressed, go for a walk (though exercise produces feel-good endorphins and reconnects them to the outside world), they may be eating badly too - or not at all.
  • Shop/cook for your friend if it is okay with him/her.
  • Deep lethargy may mean your friend is as physically incapitated as if she had broken every bone in her body. She/he may need help washing clothes, cleaning, buying toilet paper. Don't wait to be asked, just do it.
  • Build our own support network. Don't forget to look after yourself too. It's tough supporting a friend/relative with depression, you miss who he/she used to be, you are afraid he/she is contemplating suicide. So make sure you also have support.
  • You can cooperate with them, you can give love and support
  • Books to read: "When someone you love has depression "- by Barbara Baker - it's full of practical information and treatment options, including drugs and counselling. It also gives practical advice on how to cope.

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