Mayo Clinic Health Library

Teenage depression: Prevention begins with parental support

Updated: 09-15-2012

Teenage depression is a serious health concern that can result in long-lasting physical and emotional challenges. Although there's no sure way to prevent teenage depression, you can take simple steps to make a difference — starting today.

Offer unconditional support

A strong parent-child relationship can help prevent depression.

To build — or maintain — a positive relationship with your child, you might:

  • Set aside time each day to talk
  • Find out what excites — and concerns — your child
  • Encourage your child to express his or her feelings
  • Recognize your child's achievements and praise his or her strengths, whether it's in academics, music, athletics, relationships or other areas
  • Offer positive feedback when you notice positive behavior 
  • Prepare and eat meals together
  • Respond to your child's anger with calm reassurance rather than aggression of your own

If your child is reluctant to talk, spend time in the same room. Even if you're not talking, a caring attitude can speak volumes.

Foster friendship and social networks

Encourage your child to spend time with friends and to get involved in extracurricular activities.

Positive peer experiences and strong friendships can help prevent depression. Playing team sports or taking part in other organized activities might help, too, by boosting your child's self-esteem and increasing his or her social support network.

At the same time, be alert to the possible issues associated with early dating. Even typical romantic experiences, such as flirting and dating, can be challenging for teens — and might contribute to symptoms of depression.

Monitor media use

Be wary of movies and TV shows that feature idealized characters and situations. If your child routinely gauges himself or herself against an impossible ideal, feelings of disappointment or depression might follow.

Repeated exposure to negative or violent content might also aggravate feelings of depression, perhaps by promoting a negative or fearful view of the world.

On the flip side, some research suggests that reading during adolescence might have the opposite effect — perhaps offering a buffer against depression.

Encourage physical activity

Regular physical activity — regardless of the level of intensity — might play a role in reducing teenage depression and anxiety.

For adolescents, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends one hour or more of physical activity a day. This includes aerobic activities — such as running, swimming, walking and jumping rope — and muscle-strengthening activities, such as climbing a rock wall or lifting weights.

Promote good sleep

A good night's sleep can help your child feel his or her best, both physically and emotionally.

In a recent study, teens whose parents enforced a bedtime of 10 p.m. or earlier were significantly less likely to become depressed than were teens who went to bed at midnight or later.

In addition to a consistent bedtime, also consider other principles of good sleep — such as following a consistent bedtime routine and limiting screen time just before bed.

Also keep in mind that the relationship between sleep and depression goes both ways. Lack of sleep might boost the risk of depression — and depression itself can make it harder to sleep.

Consider mental health therapy

Family-based depression prevention programs — often using a type of psychotherapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy — can be helpful, especially when there's a family history of depression.

During therapy, a mental health provider might help you and your child:

  • Learn about depression
  • Develop skills to handle stress in a positive way
  • Communicate with each other more effectively
  • Understand the effect that stress and depression can have on a person's life

Consult a mental health provider about the options and what might work best for your child.

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