How to Help a Teenager Who Doesn’t Want Help

April 10, 2024

Teen depression is a serious mental health condition. Depression in teens leads to persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, and a loss of interest in hobbies, activities, and social events. Teen depression will affect how your teen feels, thinks, and behaves in time, leading to considerable physical and emotional distress. Depression can occur at any age, but its symptoms often look different in teens compared to adults.  

Teen Depression Statistics

Recent studies suggest a growing number of teens experience depression-especially teen girls. Statistics suggest teen girls are almost three times as likely to experience depression than boys of the same age. Data from the recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that 13% of teens ages 12-17 experienced at least one episode of major depression in the last year. This shows an increase of 5% from data collected 10 years before.  

Information from the same survey shows that one in five teen girls (approximately 2.4 million) experienced at least one major depressive episode compared to 845,000 boys. The total number of teens who reported experiencing depression in the decade between 2007 and 2017 increased by nearly 60%, with the rate of growth for girls (66%) being notable faster than that of boys (44%). Information from a Pew Research Center Survey of Teenagers states seven in ten U.S teens indicate depression and anxiety are significant problems among U.S teens.  

What Causes Teen Depression?

As with most mental health conditions, there is no single cause of teen depression. Researchers suggest there are likely several intertwined or connected possible causes of teen depression. Understanding what causes your teen’s symptoms and what the symptoms of depression look like in teens can help you get the help your child needs to start their recovery, even if they are hesitant to seek or accept help.  


Teens with a trauma history (whether direct or indirect) may be more likely to experience anxiety and depression. Remember that your teen does not need to be the direct victim of or witness to a traumatic event for the event to trigger mental health symptoms. Trauma and the challenges that evolve from traumatic experiences can occur when someone learns about a traumatic experience of a loved one or close friend.  


Teens with a family history of anxiety or mood disorders are at a greater risk of developing them as well. Teens with a first-degree relative are at a higher risk than others.  

Substance use 

Unfortunately, drug and alcohol abuse is not uncommon among adolescents and teens. The side effects of drug and alcohol abuse can lead to dramatic moods and depression in teens. Conversely, they may use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate pre-existing mental health symptoms. While using substances to self-medicate can work in the short term, as the effects of the substance wear off, depression and anxiety quickly return, often more severe than before.  


A teen’s school, home, and social environments can have a notable impact on their overall mental health. Challenges within their environment, such as poverty, abuse and neglect, divorce, bullying, and learning disabilities, may all contribute to developing depression and anxiety disorders.  


The structure of teenagers’ brains differs from adults. As teens grow, changes in the brain, especially those that respond to danger and reward, can increase stress levels. Teens with depression and anxiety may also have different levels of specific neurotransmitters (serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine) in their brains. These differences can affect how mood and behavior are regulated. 


The teen years, most notably during puberty, are a time of increased stress for teens. Both boys and girls go through dramatic hormonal changes that can affect their mood and make it difficult to deal with everyday stressors.  

Recognizing Depression in Teens 

As mentioned above, it can be challenging for parents or guardians to separate teen depression from behaviors that are part of “normal” teen development. As a parent, you understand your teen’s behavior better than anyone. If you notice a particular behavior or mood change lasting for weeks or months, or if that behavior interferes with their daily life, it may be a symptom of a mental health condition such as depression that could benefit from a teen-focused treatment program like Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center. 

It is also important to remember that the symptoms of teen depression look different from depression in adults. Below are a few examples of common teen depression symptoms. 

  • Reduced energy 
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and activities 
  • Excessive sleep or excessive fatigue 
  • Problems with concentration 
  • Increased isolation 
  • Dieting or food aversions 
  • Self-harming behaviors such as cutting or burning 
  • Substance use and abuse 
  • Expressing sadness or hopelessness 
  • Feelings of anxiety or panic 
  • Mood swings and irritability 
  • Engaging in risky behaviors 
  • Suicidal thoughts. 

For a mental health provider to diagnose depression, a complete assessment is necessary. Several medical and mental health conditions can mimic anxiety and depression disorders. For example, substance use disorders and thyroid disorders share many similar symptoms. It is essential to rule out these conditions and any other potential medical diagnosis to obtain a proper diagnosis. 

Your teen’s mental or medical health provider will perform a complete psychological evaluation by asking a series of questions about their current (and past) moods, thoughts, and behaviors. They will also consider risk factors such as family history, academic performance, and peer relationships. Mental health providers use criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to appropriately assess and diagnose teen depression. 

Helping Your Teen with Depression 

Treatment for teen depression is based on their symptoms and the severity of our condition. A provider may suggest a therapeutic plan that includes psychotherapy (talk therapy), medication, or a combination of both. Usually, the most effective treatment programs involve a combination of evidence-based, teen-focused depression treatments and antidepressant medications. 


Talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are two of the most common therapeutic models used in teen depression treatment programs. Both CBT and talk therapy can occur in individual and group environments. During therapy sessions, your teen will work closely with their treatment provider. They will talk about their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how each affects their emotions. Part of CBT involves examining thoughts and actions to learn healthier ways to respond to triggers.  


Two antidepressant medications have received Food and Drug Administration approval for use in teen depression treatment; Prozac and Lexapro. It is essential to talk with your teen’s provider about antidepressant medications and possible side effects. Most antidepressant medications, especially those approved for use in teen treatment, are generally safe; however, the FDA requires specific warnings for prescriptions. Although uncommon, some youth, teens, and young adults may experience increased suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviors when taking antidepressants. These particular side effects are more common during the first few weeks of starting a medication or after the dose is changed.  

Suppose your teen’s mental health treatment team suggests using antidepressants as part of a comprehensive depression treatment plan. In that case, it is essential to closely monitor your teen for signs of unusual behavior or worsening depression symptoms.  

Overcoming Treatment Hesitations 

If you are concerned your teen might be depressed, but they refuse to seek treatment, there are steps you can take as a parent to provide help and support.  


Remember that communication is vital. Talk openly and honestly with your teen about your concerns and how the changes you have seen in their emotions may suggest depression. Also, talk with them about the potential dangers of untreated depression. Be sure they know you empathize with their feelings. While you may not feel what they are feeling, you can see they feel unhappy.  

Research shows that fear of how family members may react is a significant barrier to treatment for teens with depression. Because they worry about how their loved ones will respond or are concerned their family will not understand, teens may hesitate to share what they are feeling. Open, honest and compassionate communication is vital to overcoming these fears.  


Provide your teen with consistent support and encouragement. This will help develop a support system they can rely on as they begin healing from depression. Provide reassurance that depression is a common condition and there is no shame in seeking help to manage their symptoms. Acknowledge that getting help requires courage, and you are here to support them at every step. It is crucial to ensure your teen knows they can turn to you for help and guidance as they begin their treatment journey. 

Seeking help 

Offer to help your teen develop a list of potential help sources such as treatment centers like Hillcrest Adolescent Treatment Center. You can also work with them to create a list of questions they may want to ask their providers about their symptoms and how they can safely manage them during the early stages of treatment.  

Many of these tips for helping your teen can be facilitated through several approaches, including in-person conversations, email, instant messages, or text messages. The mode of delivery does not matter. What is important is communicating openly with your teen, ensuring they know you are there for them. Also, remember that convincing a teen who is reluctant to seek help that mental health treatment can help is a process that takes time.  

It may require several conversations before even small steps are made. If this happens, don’t give up. Teen depression is a serious condition, and seeking help from a teen-focused program is essential to helping your teen heal. To learn more about how our programs can help, contact our admissions team today for more information.