I’m a Depressed Teen but I Can’t Tell My Parents

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Reader’s Question

I’m a 14-year-old girl and I’ve been feeling depressed since last year. I cannot tell my parents about it and I don’t know how to tell them. Lately I’ve been too sad and I don’t talk to anyone (I feel pathetic bothering my friend when I talk about being depressed). So, I don’t do anything but lay in bed and think or write because writing is the only way to stop myself from drowning in suicidal thoughts. My friend told me to see a professional doctor, but I can’t.

Psychologist’s Reply

Unfortunately, the very nature of depression distorts our feelings, thoughts, and ways of viewing ourselves and the world. When we’re in the middle of it, we usually don’t even realize how much we’re being affected. Instead, it simply feels like our negative views are realistic. We feel hopeless and worthless, and don’t question the accuracy of those feelings. Of course those are the very feelings and distorted views that are the symptoms of depression, yet they keep many people from seeking treatment. After all, depressed people think, “What is the point?”

The first step to getting better is to face the negativity that keeps you stuck and not reaching out for help. In some families children or teens may not feel like they are taken seriously by parents if they describe themselves as depressed. Sometimes adults assume that children are exaggerating to get attention, or “don’t have anything to feel depressed about.” In reality, depression can have many causes, including biological ones that have nothing to do with what is happening in the person’s life. You mentioned that you can’t tell your parents, but I’m not sure whether that is because you don’t know how to or whether you feel ashamed and don’t want to be a burden. The first possibility is a problem of strategy or technique, whereas the second possibility is the result of depression.

Because you may need professional treatment, it’s worth starting with recruiting your parents to assist you. Being as open and honest about your feelings and experiences as you can is the best strategy, but avoid words and expressions that may be misunderstood as “drama” or attention seeking. Be sure to include specific examples and symptoms that have lead you to conclude that you’re depressed (including social withdrawal, suicidal thoughts, and low self-esteem). It’s also important to express that you’re bringing up all of this because you need treatment, not because you’re complaining about the home life your parents provide or the ways they treat you. If you worry that a conversation may become emotional or easily get off track, perhaps writing a letter to your parents may be effective. That way you have time to focus on exactly what you want to say, and reading your words may have more of an impact than hearing them.

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I want to emphasize the importance of seeking professional treatment: medication, counseling, or both. Depression can be devastating, yet we live in a time in history in which we have the greatest number of effective treatment options. It may take some trial and error in terms of trying medications or therapists, but do not stop until you find the treatment that works for you. Many people who experience an episode of depression like you describe will at some point in their lives experience another episode. So, finding what works best for you makes future treatment easier and quicker. The first step is talking back to the negativity that is part of your depression and telling your parents what you’ve been experiencing so that you can start to get the treatment you need and deserve. Be brave.

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