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Depression Treatment Options for Teens and Young Adults

depression treatment for teenagers

Depression can affect anyone, of any age or upbringing. Today, more than 2.7 million youth are living with severe major depression – and even more have reported depressive episodes in the last year. It’s a devastating reality, but a reality nonetheless. The number of children, teenagers, and young adults struggling with depression has been on the rise for years. 

According to a new CDC study, published in 2023, an astounding 44 percent of high school students currently experience “persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness” – tell-tale markers of depression. This is up from 26 percent of high school students in 2009.  

Depression impacts every area of a young person’s life. It can disrupt their school work, friendships, finances, home life, family dynamics, and even their own feelings of motivation and self-worth. But despite these negative influences, most teenagers do not get proper help. Specifically, 60 percent of youth with depression do not receive professional treatment.

Many young people are scared to admit they have depression, unsure of what others might think. Some do not know that their struggles even warrant professional help. Others might be interested in getting help, but are unsure where to turn. If you are a parent and believe your teenager is struggling with depression, the best thing you can do right now is intervene. 

Learning the signs of depression in teenagers, as well as the depression treatment options available to young people, is an important step that every concerned parent must take. Additionally, if you are ready to move forward with treatment, it’s important you’re equipped with knowledge on what to look for in a provider. In this guide, we’ll outline everything you need to know about getting your teen treatment for depression—including what’s effective, what to look for, and when to start your search.

Does My Teenager Need Depression Treatment?

Depression can take on several forms, and it’s not always easy to identify in young people. Teenagers in particular struggle to express their feelings, and may act moody as a result. This is due to their stage of brain development combined with their rapidly changing body and chemical makeup. As such, teenagers may not even be aware they are experiencing symptoms of depression. And parents might not know the difference between depression and normal teen behavior.

However, there are tell-tale signs that can indicate your loved one is struggling. As noted above, depression disrupts a person’s everyday life and functioning. If your teenager is struggling with depression, the symptoms will begin to interfere with their academic performance, relationships, sleep patterns, and even their motivation to get out of bed. 

If your teenager is exhibiting any of the below signs of depression – and they persist for two weeks or more – you should speak with a treatment professional:

  • Persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness
  • Lack of enthusiasm, energy, or motivation
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Avoidance of once-loved activities
  • Outbursts of anger and rage
  • Poor self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness
  • Sensitivity to criticism
  • Feelings of inadequacy and guilt
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Problems with memory and concentration
  • Drops in academic performance/school refusal
  • Issues with authorities
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

What are the Most Effective Depression Treatment Options for Teens?

It is devastating to watch your child struggle with their mental health. However, the good news is that depression is a very treatable and manageable condition. It does, however, usually require specialized attention and ongoing care. When caught early, depression has very favorable outcomes for youth.

Left untreated, however, depression can lead to other negative effects on a teenager’s life. Unsure of how to cope with these symptoms, young people might turn to substance abuse or suicidal behaviors as a means of escape. This is why getting professional treatment for depression is so important.

So, which types of treatment are most effective for depression in teenagers?

It’s important to note that depression treatment is not one-size-fits-all. Every adolescent or young adult will have their own needs, and it’s important for their treatment plan to address those needs holistically. For example, many teenagers with depression struggle with multiple mental health problems, like anxiety. In fact, new research shows that more than 60 percent of adolescents with depression have at least one other, co-occurring mental health diagnosis—most commonly anxiety disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder and substance use disorders. All disorders must be treated in order for treatment to be effective. 

Additionally, teen depression treatment must consider factors like family dynamics, drug abuse, medical conditions, behavioral issues, age and gender, and more.

In general, though, there are common depression treatment modalities backed by evidence. The following treatments have been found most effective for teenagers with depression:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – This type of psychotherapy has been found most effective for teenagers with depression. CBT works to change negative and intrusive thought patterns, and encourage healthy behaviors for coping.
  • Interpersonal Therapy – Another type of psychotherapy, interpersonal therapy has also been successful for teens with depression. According to national research, interpersonal therapy is aimed at reducing interpersonal stress and improving social functioning. Involvement of family and caregivers has been found particularly helpful in this treatment method.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) – DBT, like CBT, is a type of behavioral therapy that’s shown to be effective in reducing suicidal ideation and self-harm behaviors in teenagers. Dialectical behavioral therapy focuses on mindfulness to manage negative feelings and stress.
  • Family Therapy – Family therapy focuses on improving relationships between family members and makes parents an active part of their teenager’s treatment plan. Family therapy improves communication, trust, and awareness between parents and their teens, which is especially effective in overcoming depression.
  • Medication – While behavioral and interpersonal therapies are critical components for treating depression, medication has been proven effective as well. Medication for depression is prescribed to complement the therapeutic modalities mentioned above.

These are just some examples of evidence-based depression treatment options for teenagers. And just how treatment is not one-size-fits-all, it also is not a one-track journey. In order to effectively treat depression in teenagers, multiple modalities are recommended. Teenagers can benefit from a combination of behavioral therapies, medications, family counseling, and lifestyle management.

Choosing the Right Depression Treatment Provider for Your Teen

Adolescents will not typically look for treatment on their own. As a parent, you can be a powerful part of their journey to recovery – and this starts by finding the right treatment provider. 

There are many types of depression treatment, including residential programs and outpatient programs for teenagers. As you research the different possibilities, think about your teenager’s needs and the severity of their symptoms. Would they benefit from regular, outpatient counseling and meetings? Or, do they require more watchful care and support through a residential treatment provider? Teenagers who are exhibiting signs of suicidal ideation and behaviors should enroll in an inpatient treatment program to ensure their safety. 

In your research of depression treatment options, you might come across short- and long-term programs as well. In general, treatment programs can last between 30 days and 12 months, and the duration needed will depend on your teen’s condition. Long-term treatment is usually recommended for severe cases of depression in teenagers, and can position them for long-term success. As echoed by Nationalchildrens.org, while depression symptoms can improve within weeks of starting treatment, “Continued treatment may help keep symptoms from coming back.”

If you are unsure which type of treatment program is best for your teen, call your pediatrician or child’s primary doctor. Request a mental health screening to better understand your teen’s symptoms and the severity of their depression. They can provide a recommendation and help you determine your next steps. Remember, depression is a very serious condition in teenagers and any symptoms should be acted upon immediately. If you are unsure where to turn for support, know that Turnbridge is just a call away.Turnbridge is a recognized mental health treatment provider for teenagers and young adults. We have dedicated programs to help teens overcome depression, develop healthy coping skills, and build meaningful lives after treatment is complete. Speak with one of our specialists today at 877-581-1793.