When Is It Time for a Teen With Depression to Begin Treatment?
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When Is It Time for a Teen With Depression to Begin Treatment?

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If your teen has been showing behavior changes recently, like sleeping in more or staying home and withdrawing socially, it’s normal for you to be concerned. Today’s generation of teens is grappling with more complexity and uncertainty than ever before. Between the 24-hour news cycle and pressures they experience at school, many teens experience tough challenges before they’ve had a chance to fully develop their sense of self and the emotional regulation skills they need to move on. 

Major depressive disorder (MDD) is one of the most common mental health diagnoses teens are receiving today. In 2021, 20.1% of youth aged 12 to 17 reported at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Adolescent girls experienced depression at almost triple the rate of adolescent boys, 29.2% and 11.5%, respectively.

If you’re a parent who hasn’t experienced mental health issues like depression, rest assured that you’re not the only one with a lot of questions about teen depression — and few answers. The ways we talk about mental wellness has changed over the last few decades.

We’ve created this parent guide to help you gain some perspective on what your child is dealing with and introduce you to the kinds of treatment available for teen depression today.

When should I begin exploring depression treatment options for my teen?

You know your teen better than almost anyone else. Changes in behavior don’t necessarily signal depression in every case. But if your teen has expressed thoughts of suicide or self-harm, or if they’re showing signs of severe depression, you should definitely talk to them about finding a treatment program. Early intervention can help prevent the condition from worsening and can improve long-term outcomes. If you suspect that your teen is experiencing depression, it’s important to seek help from a qualified mental health professional who can provide an accurate diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options.

Your teen’s doctor can administer tests to see if your child is depressed or if there’s another problem. We also offer free assessments. If your child has told you that they’re interested in treatment, support them in finding a therapist or treatment program they like. 

If your teen is at risk for attempting suicide, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.

What are the symptoms of depression in teens?

Signs of depression aren’t always obvious, even if you know someone well. Teen depression shares the same symptoms as depression in adults. Some symptoms you might notice in a teen with depression include:

  • Persistent sadness, hopelessness, or frequent crying
  • Lack of interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Low energy or slowed speech and movements
  • Fidgeting and restlessness
  • Eating more than usual or having no appetite
  • Sleeping more than usual or insomnia
  • Social withdrawal
  • Unexplained aches and pains

Why is my teen depressed?

Many factors can contribute to depression. This generation of teens is experiencing a mental health crisis partially driven by surviving the COVID-19 pandemic and facing the effects of climate change. Hormonal changes can definitely play a role. Your teen may have seasonal depression if their symptoms get worse as the weather changes. If other members of your family have had depression, your child might be genetically predisposed. Finally, life events like significant losses, traumatic experiences or witnessing traumatic events can lead to depression.

Whatever may be causing your teen’s depression, try not to look for reasons to blame yourself or your child. MDD is a legitimate mental health condition and not anyone’s fault.

Effective treatment for depression

There are several different types of therapy that are effective for treating teens with depression. In many cases, a combination of both therapy and medication is most effective. 

The following treatment options may be helpful for your teen:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — This widely used therapy technique combines cognitive and behavioral therapies to change negative thought processes and behaviors.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) — This skills training modality helps people develop emotional resilience by learning to accept opposing truths. Your teen will learn skills for acceptance and change as well as mindfulness techniques to keep them grounded.
  • Medication — If therapy alone isn’t enough to alleviate your teen’s depression, they may need medication. There are many safe and effective depression medications, and we can help your teen find one that works for them.

What level of care should my teen start with?

Your teen’s starting point will depend on the severity of their depression. Many people begin with weekly outpatient therapy appointments. On the other hand, people with severe depression may need to start with Residential Treatment and taper down to lower levels of treatment as their symptoms improve.

The following are the three levels of care we offer at Lightfully Teen:

  • Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) — Our Teen IOP is a flexible way to get a lot of treatment for depression symptoms each week with plenty of opportunities to practice skills at school and at home. Teens receive three to five hours of treatment per day.
  • Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) — Partial Hospitalization offers five full days of depression treatment per week with support groups, outings and sessions while allowing teens to return home each night..
  • Residential Treatment Center (RTC) — There are some big differences between RTC and inpatient treatment at a hospital. Our Teen RTCs are calm, inviting home settings where teens can feel safe while they focus on alleviating their depression.

Lightfully Teen is here for you and your family

Your teen can learn how to manage their depression and get back into their academic studies and favorite activities feeling more like themselves again. Many people make friends in our treatment programs who are just as diligent about maintaining good mental health. 

If you need some help starting this conversation with your teen, check out this other article we posted on how to help a teen with depression.

What questions do you have about navigating this process or talking with your teen about treatment? Contact us for answers. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together.

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