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Peaceful mountainside covered in purple flowers. Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at
There are always things to be thankful for if you’re looking.
Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at

Finding Help for Teen Depression is Tough

Getting help for teen depression is hard. As a parent, your heart is breaking. You see your once vibrant adolescent struggling to come up for air. Your son or daughter is likely irritable, sullen, withdrawn, and does not feel zest for life. Consequently, you are left wondering what you should do.

A Story of Depression

I’m reading an incredible book right now.  It’s called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  The book is fairly auto-biographical, but only for a period of the author’s life.  She starts out by explaining how regret, sadness, and bitterness pervade her life.  More or less, she’s probably struggling with depression and some anxiety.  She looks back at past events that really hurt her family growing up, and continues to have fears caused by those events.

Does Regret Play a Role in Your Teen’s Depression?

I think if we’re not very conscious to control regretful thoughts, they can affect all of us.  There are always things to look back on that we should have done differently.  I must have thousands of those types of choices.  I’ve spent a good part of the last few days wishing I could redo last Friday, actually. Your teen needs help for depression because they fixate on regrets. These range from small things like a few poorly chosen words to big things like breaking up with someone. Adolescents with depression idealize how something ought to feel. As a result, they profoundly struggle with accepting that life is full of missteps and inequalities.

Ideas That Help with Teen Depression

One Thousand Gifts goes on to share how the author works through her depression and anxious moods.  There are a few lessons to take from her, which I will go over in the next paragraph, but first let me tell you the basics of what she does to move on from her past.  She leans hard into her Christian faith and recognizes one of the main tenants of Christianity is to be thankful IN all things (not FOR all things).  This means finding something to be grateful for no matter what.  She begins a list of 1,000 little joys that surround her.  The list has the smallest things, like how incredible the different colors are in soap bubbles or how beautiful the sound is when her children play together.  Surprisingly, these things are easy to overlook unless you’re paying attention; she finds she has been overlooking them for years.

1. Lean Into A Faith

The lessons from Voskamp’s story that can help with teen depression are as follows:  First of all, while not all of you reading this are Christian, most of you probably believe in something.  Teach your suffering teen to lean hard into it when they’re suffering. Faith is an amazing way to cope with stress, depression, and anxiety.  It might not solve it, but it also takes work.  Your teen can’t just vaguely believe in something and then never read about it, pray, and give it time.  If your teen does all these things, they will find some percentage of help with their teen depression in their faith.

2. Gratitude and Depression are Opposing Forces

Another huge lesson from Voskamp’s story is that thankfulness is really the opposite of depression and anxiety.  Actively looking for the small things in life that are beautiful, enjoyable, funny, loving, etc. leads to less time worrying and regretting. Honestly, there simply isn’t room in your mind to do both.  This isn’t to trivialize a legitimate depressive disorder or anxiety disorder, because often those are much deeper than just your teen’s attitude.  However, for many teens seeking help with depression, changing focus to a grateful posture alleviates some of the suffering.

3. Life Isn’t Linear: Depression and Joy Coexist

Voskamp teaches one of life’s most important lessons. Teens fighting with depression find help in knowing they have permission to grieve/feel anger/fret/feel sadness at the same time they feel joy. For example, many teen parents call and tell me their child requests counseling for depression or anxiety. However, the parent says it’s hard to understand because their teen still laughs and sees friends. These things do exist at the same time. For my part, I am grateful that’s the case because it means there is always joy to be found even on the worst of days.

Final Thoughts on Help for Teen Depression

Now for a personal note: I (Lauren) don’t struggle much with depressed moods.  I do however struggle with anxiety.  Worries about the future plague me at times, and it’s a battle to keep these thoughts at bay. However, Voskamp’s techniques are really helpful in my own life.  I am trying to be more active in my faith, and am looking for tiny things to enjoy. In the past 15+ years I’ve been counseling depressed teens, this technique has never failed to help them at least a little bit. My hope is that it will be a source of help for your teen with depression as well.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,

Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT