How to Help Teens With Depression: A Multilevel Approach

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Wondering how to help teens with depression? What can parents do to help? What about schools or society at large?

Depression among teenagers has been on the rise in the last decade, with over 40% of high school students reporting feelings of sadness and hopelessness. By understanding the causes and implementing targeted interventions, we can help teens with depression and build a brighter future.

Read on to learn how to help teens with depression, based on three coordinated approaches.

How to Help Teens With Depression

In the last decade, teen mental health has steadily declined—over 40% of high school students now say they feel persistently sad or hopeless. So, what can be done about this? If you’re wondering how to help teens with depression, there may be solutions that can help reverse these trends. However, experts don’t all agree on the causes, so therefore they also won’t all agree on the solutions. But it’s likely that changes will have to be made on several different levels. In this article, we’ll look at potential solutions at the parent, school, and governmental levels. 

Depression in Young People

Before we jump into how to help teens with depression, let’s discuss the issue of teen depression in today’s society. We’ll draw from Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence, which touches on this issue. According to him, international data reflects a modern epidemic of depression in today’s young people. Each generation since the beginning of the 21st century has a higher risk than their parents of suffering major depression.

  • This is partially because of the erosion of the nuclear family due to industrialization. Many children don’t have connections to their extended family due to increased mobility and don’t get the attention of their parents due to divorce rates and longer working hours.
  • Waning religious beliefs also contribute to this epidemic—kids have fewer resources to turn to in the face of a crisis than they once might have.

Some people think kids grow out of depression, but the opposite is true: mild episodes of depression in childhood often lead to more severe episodes in adulthood.

Depressed children, like angry children, are more likely to be isolated and ostracized in school, making it harder for them to learn social skills and build relationships that could help pull them out of depression. Depression also affects concentration and memory, leading to worse grades and poorer academic performance, says Goleman.

Relationship problems of any kind are the most triggering factor for depression in young people.

  • Depressed youths have difficulty understanding or talking about their feelings, specifically sadness. Because of this, they seem to translate depression into other emotions—anger, irritability, impatience, specifically toward their parents. This of course makes it harder for their parents to connect with them and help them, which in turn isolates the children more.

According to Goleman, handling setbacks is another frequent trigger for depression. Interpreting their failures as personal shortcomings they can’t change, or things that don’t work no matter what they seem to do, drives them deeper into depression.

TITLE: Emotional Intelligence
AUTHOR: Daniel Goleman
TIME: 52
READS: 50.6
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: emotional-intelligence-summary-daniel-goleman


So, in light of the issues, how can we help teens with depression? Some of the solutions parents could consider to try to address teen depression include:

  • Limiting kids’ phone time and exposure to social media
  • Encouraging outdoor activities and socialization with friends
  • Learning how parental behavior plays a role. Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions (SPACE) is a parent-based intervention program to help treat childhood and adolescent problems related to anxiety. This includes teaching parents how to address their own behaviors that may be contributing to their children’s anxiety.


Since teens spend a large portion of their time at school, this is the space where mental health interventions could be most helpful. Some school-based initiatives and programs that could help teens with depression include:

  • Encouraging more social connections through school clubs and activities
  • Connecting youth and their families to needed services at school or in the community—including mental health and substance abuse prevention services
  • Implementing quality health education that’s medically accurate and includes lessons about consent and gender equality
  • Offering meditation and yoga classes to help relieve stress and facilitate connectedness
  • Offering ample art, music, and theater programs to encourage fun, creativity, and friendship
  • Encouraging outdoor activity and nature connectedness, for example through school gardens.


How can society help teens with depression? One of the biggest challenges to improving teen mental health is the lack of access to quality mental health care. There simply aren’t enough mental health care providers to meet the need, and socioeconomic inequalities put some populations at a greater disadvantage for access. Some things to push for at the level of society and government include:

  • Funding for mental health programs: The Biden administration has said that tackling this crisis is a high priority, and the Department of Health and Human Services recently awarded around $245 million to support youth mental health programs. This kind of funding will need to be sustained for the long term, and the government might also consider subsidizing costs of training for mental health professionals.
  • Support for urban greening: Efforts toward urban greening and conservation are underfunded. Organizations like the Student Conservation Association focus on connecting urban youth to nature, addressing issues of environmental justice, social responsibility, leadership, and stewardship. 
How to Help Teens With Depression: A Multilevel Approach

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Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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