What to Do When Your Depressed Teen Refuses Help

Steps to Take to Encourage Treatment and Recovery

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If your teen appears to be depressed, you may have suggested that is time to get help. What can you do if they refuse to get help? Unfortunately, this is more common than many parents would like to believe. A depressed teen usually doesn't realize that depression is the reason for changes in how they are feeling or acting. Part of the disorder is not thinking clearly enough to see what's really going on and feeling too lousy to deal with it even if you do.

There are a number of effective approaches to ease a teen into taking the first steps in facing depression and getting the help they need. There's no right or wrong way to do this. Start with the method that seems to best fit your teen's personality and problems. If that doesn't work, try another.

Tips for Helping a Depressed Teen

If you are concerned that your teen may be depressed, but they appear uninterested in getting help or perhaps outright refuse it, there are steps that you can take to help them. Proceed with gentle but firm methods to persuade your teen to get help. These varied approaches have all been effective in helping depressed teens move forward.

Communication

Talking openly and honestly with your teen is the first step.

  • Talk in specific terms about the signs and changes you've seen in them that concern you and that point to possible depression.
  • Discuss how having untreated depression can negatively impact them.
  • Make a compassionate deal. For example, tell them that if they'll agree to getting an evaluation with a therapist specializing in teen depression, you'll treat them to a hot fudge sundae or another reward that motivates them.
  • Attempt to empathize with the pain your teen is feeling. For example, discuss that while you can't know exactly how they're feeling, outwardly they seem unhappy.

Research has shown that fear of what family members may think is a significant barrier to treatment for many depressed teens. They may not share what they are feeling due to shame or fear that close family members will not understand. Communicating with a teen openly about depression is one way to help overcome this fear and stigma.

Encouragement

Once you've expressed your concern, encourage your teen to seek the help they need.

  • Reassure your teen that being depressed is a common medical condition that they should never feel ashamed about.
  • Write down and give them a list of the positive qualities you know they have that will help them to heal.
  • Openly acknowledge that getting help takes courage.
  • Reward them for any steps they're willing to take to deal with their depression.

Unfortunately, research has shown that only about one-third of U.S. adolescents with depression seek treatment.

One study indicated that worries about what other people might think are a key barrier to treatment. Talking to a teen about the benefits of receiving treatment may help reduce some of the stigma and fear that some adolescents feel.

Support

Give your teen unwavering support and encourage them to develop a healing support system.

  • Constantly let them know that you're in this with them—that you'll do whatever it takes to help and support them for as long as they need you.
  • Repeat as often as possible, "I'm really concerned about you, I really want to help, and I'm here for you."

Research has found that teen depression can have a serious impact on a child's physical, family, social, and school functioning. Supporting a teen by checking in regularly, inviting them to participate in social events, or just helping them with day-to-day tasks can be a way of showing that you care.

Finding Help

Assist your teen in finding the right providers for the help they need.

  • Offer to help them develop a list of questions they should ask a professional about depression and their specific symptoms and circumstances.
  • Express to your teen that they don't have to continue to suffer alone.
  • Encourage them to talk to their doctor or a school counselor.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Most of these approaches can be facilitated through direct discussion or e-mails, texts, or pictures. Use whatever it takes to help your teen find the inner resources to take this first step. Don't allow yourself to get discouraged, and don't give up. Teen depression is very serious and treatment is necessary in order to heal.

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Article Sources
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  1. Meredith LS, Stein BD, Paddock SM, et al. Perceived barriers to treatment for adolescent depression. Med Care. 2009;47(6):677-85. doi:10.1097/MLR.0b013e318190d46b

  2. Mojtabai R, Olfson M, Han B. National Trends in the Prevalence and Treatment of Depression in Adolescents and Young AdultsPediatrics. 2016;138(6):e20161878. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-1878

  3. Radovic A, Farris C, Reynolds K, Reis EC, Miller E, Stein BD. Primary care providers' beliefs about teen and parent barriers to depression care. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2014;35(8):534-8. doi:10.1097/DBP.0000000000000089

  4. Jaycox LH, Stein BD, Paddock S, et al. Impact of teen depression on academic, social, and physical functioningPediatrics. 2009;124(4):e596–e605. doi:10.1542/peds.2008-3348

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