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

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:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.

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

  • Recognizing Teen Depression. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000648.htm.
  • Teen Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/teen-depression/index.shtml#pub4.