From Happy to Depressed: How to Help Your Child Overcome Depression

How To Know If Your Child Is Depressed

Many parents, especially parents of teens, expect their child to be moody from time-to-time; to have an inconsistent sleep schedule; and to show varying emotions—from sadness to happiness to anger—all within a short time period. Though these are normal behaviors for children and teens, how can you know if what your child is experiencing is more than just normal “teenage” behavior and emotions? Consider the list below to help determine if your child may be struggling with depression.

Depression in teens may be present if your child[1],[2]:

  • Is sad, irritable, teary, or angry for most of the day nearly every day for at least two weeks
  • Doesn’t enjoy activities he/she used to enjoy
  • Has changes in weight or eating habits (can be both an increase or decrease in weight and/or food intake)
  • Has difficulty sleeping at night or sleeping too much during the day
  • Doesn’t want to be around people, specifically family and friends
  • Has a lack of energy or the inability to do simple tasks
  • Experiences feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, or has low self-esteem
  • Has difficulty in making decisions or loses focus, and/or has a drop in school grades
  • No longer cares about the future
  • Has unexplainable aches and pains
  • Experiences frequent thoughts of death or suicide

It is important to point out that your child may experience one or some of these symptoms every once in a while without having depression; however, if your child experiences a number of these together most of the day, nearly every day, he/she may be experiencing clinical depression.

Treatment Options

Depression in teens is treatable. If you believe your child is experiencing depression, it is important to make an appointment with your child’s medical doctor, as some illnesses or medications can cause depressive symptoms. If these causes are ruled out, the doctor may prescribe anti-depressants. In some cases, anti-depressants may be necessary; however, in other cases, your child’s depression may be treated with therapy or a combination of anti-depressants and therapy. It may be best to talk with your child and decide together which treatment option(s) would be the most helpful.

What Parents Can Do At Home To Help Their Child

As a parent, you want to make sure your child is safe, happy, and well, and that sometimes comes with a desire to solve your child’s problems. Sometimes your child may respond well to this desire and other times he/she may become angry and/or withdrawn. The big question is, “What can you do to help your child overcome their depression?” The following is a list of helpful things you can do at home[1],[2]:

  • Talk to your child. Ask if anything at home or school is bothering him/her.
  • Do your best to provide your child with a healthy, balanced diet, as well as opportunities for exercise and physical activity.
  • Encourage positive connections with family, friends, mentors, etc.
  • Praise your child for good behavior (as small as it may be, such as doing the dishes or getting his/her homework done on time) and point out the strengths you see in him/her.
  • Look for grief/loss issues that your child may be experiencing (loss of a relationship, death of a loved one or pet, physical injury/illness keeping your child from activities he/she loves, etc).
  • Reduce stressors in your child’s life for a time, including reducing the amount of school work, chores, or activities.
  • Keep weapons and medicines (including over-the-counter) locked up in order to help ensure your child’s safety.
  • Talk to and listen to your child’s feelings with love and support. Be patient with him/her.
  • Help your child break down tasks into smaller steps so he/she can experience successes.
  • Create a list of people your child can call when feelings become worse.
  • Watch for suicide risk factors, such as talking about suicide in person or on the internet, increased thoughts about death, substance abuse, or getting rid of personal belongings[1].

Depression is difficult for both the person experiencing the depression and that person’s loved ones. At times, you and your child may feel hopeless or lost, which increases the stress around the depressive symptoms. Know that it is okay to talk about the depression with your child, supportive friends and family members, and mental health professionals. The best thing you can do for your child is to help him/her get the professional help they need, as well as consistently show him/her love, care, understanding, and patience. And don’t forget, you need to take care of yourself, too. Find other parents going through similar situations with their children, allow yourself to get out of the house and have fun, and find ways to relax and rejuvenate. When you’re able to take care of yourself, you’ll be even more able to help your child through his/her depression.

About the Author

Alicia Mueller, MA received her Bachelor of Science degree in Youth/Social Ministry from Crown College in 2012 and went on to graduate from Argosy University, Twin Cities with a Master of Arts degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. Prior to working with Lighthouse Counseling, Alicia interned at a private practice in downtown Minneapolis.

Through her internship, Alicia gained experience working with families involved in high-stress situations, such as those going through divorce and those involved with Child Protection. Alicia has also gained experience working with children, adolescents, and their families in an in-home setting. Many of these children and adolescents had mental health issues related to Autism, past trauma, and behavioral disorders. Alicia is passionate about working with children and their families, and she desires to help them build healthy and positive relationships with each other, as well as with those around them.  

Additionally, Alicia is a certified PREPARE/ENRICH facilitator and believes that healthy parental and couple relationships are at the foundation for developing positive home-life experiences. Alicia takes a holistic approach, considering the many systems involved in clients’ lives, such as faith/spirituality, living environment, school environment, financial situation, etc.

For the past four years, Alicia has been a member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Alicia tends to approach therapy through a Solution-Focused, Narrative, and Bowenian therapy lens.  

Her areas of experience include: Parent-Child Relationships, Self-Esteem Issues, Emotional Management/Regulation, Depression, Anxiety, Couples Therapy, Behavioral Issues in Children and Adolescents, Grief and Loss, Life Transitions, Stress Management, and Divorce/Separation.


If interested in setting up an appointment with Alicia at Lighthouse Counseling’s Wayzata location, you may contact her by phone at 612-562-6732 or by email at aliciam@lighthousecounseling.com.

[1] https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/emotional-problems/Pages/Childhood-   Depression-What-Parents-Can-Do-To-Help.aspx

[2] https://childmind.org/article/how-to-help-your-depressed-teenager/