What to Do When Your Depressed Teen Refuses Help

Steps to Take to Encourage Treatment

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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 she refuses to get help? Unfortunately, this is often the case. A depressed teen usually doesn't realize this is the reason for changes in how she is 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 a teen may be depressed, there are steps that you can take to help your child. Proceed with gentle but firm methods to persuade your teen to get help. These varied approaches have all been effective in helping depressed teens to move forward.

Communication

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

Encouragement

  • Reassure her that being depressed is a common medical condition that she can't control and should never feel ashamed about.
  • Write down and give her a list of the positive qualities you know she has that will help her to heal.
  • Openly acknowledge that getting help takes courage.
  • Reward her for any steps she's willing to take to deal with her depression.

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

One study indicated that worries about what other people might think is 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 may feel.

Support

  • Constantly let her know that you're in this with her—that you'll do whatever it takes to help and support her for as long as she needs you to do so.
  • 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

  • Offer to help her develop a list of questions she would ask a professional about depression.
  • Express to your teen that she doesn't have to continue to suffer.
  • Encourage them to talk to their doctor or a school counselor.

Ensure your teen has the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and knows she can call it at any time.

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. Do not allow yourself to get discouraged. Do not 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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  • Jaycox, LH, Stein, BD, Paddock, S, Miles, JN, Chandra, A, Meredith, LS, Tanielian, T, Hickey, S, and Burnam, MA. Impact of teen depression on academic, social and physical functioning. Pediatrics. 2009; 124(4):e596-605. doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-3348.

  • Meredith, LS, Stein, BD, Paddock, Sm, Jaycox, LH, Quinn, VP, Chandra, A, and Burnam, A. Perceived barriers to treatment for adolescent depression. Med Care. 2009; 47(6):677-85. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e318190d46b.

  • Radovic, A, Reynolds, K, McCauley, HL, Sucuto, GS, Stein, BD, and Miller, E. Parents' role in adolescent depression care: Primary care provider perspectives. J Pediatr. 2015; 167(4):911-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jpeds.2015.05.049.