Is Persistent Unhappiness, Irritability, or Moodiness Impacting Your Teen’s Ability To Function?

Do you have a nagging feeling that something just isn’t right with your teenager? Has he or she been sad or hopeless all day, everyday for two weeks or more? Does your teen appear perpetually unhappy, unmotivated, isolated or void of emotion? Alternatively, is your teen prone to bouts of crying or acting out with anger or aggression? Have you noticed a change in grades or other school issues? Does he or she seem to have less friends or little interest in spending time in social situations?  Does your teen want to stay in bed and sleep all day rather than engage in activities that he or she once enjoyed? Have you noticed a change in eating habits? Are you concerned that your child may have suicidal thoughts or be engaging in self-harming behaviors? Have you been feeling deflated, as your attempts to infuse your teen with some sort of positivity are ineffective? Do you wonder if what your child is experiencing is normal teenage angst or if it really is depression?

It can be a frustrating and painful experience to watch your child live in a space of unhappiness and emotional isolation. It’s common to question what happening to your once happy child and make countless, unsuccessful attempts to bring him or her back to an okay place. You may also feel helpless and scared as you hear your teen express that nothing matters and that there’s no point in doing anything at all. Depression can affect everyone in the home. It’s a challenge for everyone – especially your teen – to navigate feelings of extreme sadness. And, this challenge can feel overwhelming when there is no understanding of why your child is feeling so bad.

Many Teenagers Experience Depression

The emotional life of a teenager is, by its very nature, a struggle. Therefore, it’s pretty common for teens to experience depression or depression-like symptoms at some point during their transition from child to adult. Experiencing ups and downs during these years is a very normal part of teenage development. However, if your teen’s mood has affected his or her functionality for a significant period of time, they may be experiencing true depression or other mood disorders. For some teens, depression can be situational – brought on by a trauma that causes them to get “stuck” and feel pretty bad. For others, depression may be pervasive and ongoing, especially if there is a family history of depression or other mood disorders.

If your teenager appears depressed, a highly trained and experienced BPS therapist can help determine if his or her behaviors and feelings indicate more than just normal teenage angst. If so, getting expert help during the teen years can be critically important.

Therapy Can Help Your Teenager Effectively Manage Depression

Very often, teens do not share their painful feelings and experiences with their parents. This is a normal part of the teenage experience and their developmental task of identity formation. But, for a teen struggling with depression, a healthy outlet and education around emotions can be critical. This is one of the reasons why therapy can be so effective for teens in general and in treating depression symptoms specifically.

At first, your teen is likely to begin therapy as a big ball of emotions – even if he or she outwardly appears withdrawn or isolated.  Your BPS therapist is very experienced in depression counseling for teens, and trained to help your child analyze and understand his or her feelings. In therapy, your teen can develop increased self-awareness, learn how to identify relationship stressors and strengthen those relationships, and learn how to better communicate feelings he or she has been suppressing. You teen will work on self-esteem issues and explore different ways to connect with others. They can also learn how to better understand and tolerate complex emotions and what triggers certain feelings.

Doing this important work during the formative teenage years can help create healthy coping skills and increase your teen’s emotional and social successes in the long-term. Your teen can develop a better understanding of who they are and how they feel. With help, it’s very possible for your teenager to reconnect with activities he or she once enjoyed and bring happiness back into life.

But you still may have questions or concerns…

I’m afraid that my teenager will be diagnosed with depression or a mood disorder and that medication will be prescribed.

First, medication is not the only route to treating depression and in no way will medication be pushed on your child. The idea is always to start with therapy and see how it goes. If after careful assessment, it is determined that your child has a mood disorder severe enough to warrant medication, you and your child will be active participants in the discussion after learning about the pros and cons as well as all of your other options.

There are many treatments that are very effective in helping teenagers work through depression symptoms. Most teens have undergone therapy for depression and felt much better without any need for medication.

Your BPS therapist will assess if your teen is experiencing situational depression (caused by a traumatic event) or a more pervasive (ongoing) form of depression. If the depression is situational, it is highly likely that it can be treated without the use of medication. If it is pervasive, it is also possible for your teen to learn how to manage depression without medication. Many teens with a pervasive form of depression have successfully figured out how to work through depressive symptoms with just therapy.

In the case that all other approaches and strategies are not working, your BPS therapist may suggest that your child meet with a staff psychiatrist. Your BPS psychiatrist will work closely with you, your child and his or her therapist in order to figure out if medication is indicated.

For some teenagers, medication can be very helpful. Many teenagers have experienced remarkable results. If medication is prescribed, you are encouraged to ask questions and gain an understanding of what’s going on with your teen. The BPS staff will provide you with the support, information and expert recommendations needed in order to best help your child feel better.

I feel like I’ve tried everything to help my teen and nothing works. I’m starting to worry that nothing – even therapy – will help.

The helplessness that both you are feeling right now is very normal and understandable. However, it’s important to stay hopeful and recognize that your teen doesn’t have to feel bad forever. Many teens have felt the same way and experienced positive shifts while in therapy. What’s going on in this moment can change and an experienced and highly qualified BPS therapist can help. It is very possible for your teen to learn skills to effectively manage his or her depression and feel better. Getting support during this time really can make a difference.  It can be helpful now, as well as equip your child with healthy ways to navigate emotions throughout life.

I think that my teenager could really benefit from therapy, but I’m not sure we can afford it right now.

This is your child’s life and wellbeing. Addressing your child’s depression now may prevent a host of life-long problems and patterns from occurring as he or she leaves your home and enters adulthood. The investment in your teen’s emotional health may not only address the depression, but also keep the related symptoms from getting worse. Teens with depression are more likely to develop self-destructive behaviors – like self-medicating with drugs or alcohol – in an attempt to cope. In therapy, your child can learn healthy coping mechanisms and develop better self-esteem and self-awareness, which may prove invaluable as he or she navigates life.

Many people come to BPS having worked with other therapists who were not trained to work specifically with depression counseling for teens, or who their teen couldn’t relate with – which is a waste of time and money. At BPS, we’ll conduct a increase the likelihood of a good fit, BPS offers an online therapist directory and match you with a therapist who is trained and experienced in working with teens and depression and whose personality is a good match for you and your child. Once you find that good match, making a commitment to your child, yourself and your family may be one of the most valuable investments there is. Imagine everyone in your home feeling and functioning better on a regular basis and ask yourself what that’s worth.

If money still is an issue, you can talk with your BPS therapist to see if they work on a sliding scale. They may also be able to help you find a community resource to help offset cost.

To increase the likelihood of a good fit, BPS offers an online therapist directory which will help you to determine what your teenager’s specific issues are and ensure a good match between you, your teen and a BPS therapist in terms of personality, style and expertise.

Check out our free, online therapist directory, which will match you and your child with a therapist who has expertise working with teenagers and depression and bipolar disorder.


BPS therapist Harmony Barrett Isaacs, LPC helped create the content for this page. Harmony is a licensed professional counselor whose practice has a strong focus on helping adolescents navigate many of the tough issues that can arise during the teenage years. She has been working with teenagers struggling with depression since 2000.