What Not to Say to a Depressed Teenager

Understanding what not to say to a depressed teenager is essential to providing a welcoming environment that encourages open communication. Phrases that minimize their feelings or suggest quick fixes can be harmful. It’s vital to approach conversations empathetically, listen attentively, and validate their experiences. This approach fosters trust and shows them they’re not alone, paving the way for more effective support and understanding.

Communicating insensitively with a depressed teenager can inadvertently exacerbate their feelings of isolation and misunderstanding.

Misjudged words, even with the best intentions, might deepen their sense of alienation, making them feel more distant and less understood.

It’s imperative to cultivate an atmosphere of empathy and understanding, where every word is chosen carefully to ensure it conveys support, acceptance, and the promise of a safe space for expression. Whether your teen is beginning to display signs of teen depression or they’re currently reciting teen depression treatment, understanding how your communication affects them can help ensure you provide a warm, welcoming environment where they feel comfortable.

This article explores what not to say to a depressed teenager.

What Not to Say to a Depressed Teenager

Understanding what not to say to a depressed teenager is crucial in offering support and avoiding potentially harmful responses. Certain phrases or comments, even if well-intentioned, can exacerbate feelings of depression.

For example, you might feel the urge to offer simple solutions or exhortations by saying, “We’ll go for a few rounds in your favorite game, and it’ll cheer you up!” Trying to “cheer” your teen out of depression shows that you misunderstand what your teen is going through and aren’t trying to empathize with them. Here’s what else not to say to a depressed teenager:

Avoid Saying “Just Snap Out of It”

It’s normal for parents to feel frustrated when caring for a teen with a mental health issue like depression. Depression makes teens feel irritable, sad, and prone to isolation, even in the absence of any rational reason for sorrow. It’s frustrating for teens, too. No one wants to feel depressed. But it’s not their fault, and it’s not yours either.

There’s no easy solution or way out, though. Telling a teen to “snap out of it” implies that they’re not doing what they can to cope with their depression or that their mental health is simply an issue of perspective. Even if that were the case (which it isn’t), barking a demoralizing comment at your teen only makes them feel worse.

Related: How Does Depression Affect Teens?

Steer Clear of “Everyone Feels This Way Sometimes”

Yes, it can help to know that you’re not alone when dealing with something complex like depression. But minimizing what your teen is feeling by stating that it’s normal only serves to imply that they’re weak because they’re not coping well with these feelings that everyone seems to go through.

Statistically, less than a tenth of people struggle with a depressive diagnosis at any given time. The lifetime statistics for depressive episodes show that only about a third of all people will ever experience severe depression, even for a short time. Struggling with depression is not normal, even if other people struggle with it too. Telling your teen that others have fought and overcome depression can be empowering – telling them that everyone goes through it, however, isn’t.

Related: 10 Encouraging Facts About Teen Depression

Don’t Minimize Their Feelings with “It’s Just a Phase”

Studies indicate that while depressive episodes are finite, they are also often recurring. Implying that this is just something your teen must get through or that it’s temporary and will go away on its own isn’t addressing the damage that a depressive episode can do while it’s ongoing.

Depression increases a person’s risk for non-suicidal and suicidal self-harm, affects their focus and cognition, and correlates with other mental health issues if left untreated, ranging from anxiety disorders to substance use. A severe depressive episode always warrants serious attention.

Avoid Making Comparisons to Others’ Situations

Some benefits of group therapy and peer support for teens include knowing that you’re not alone in your struggles or recognizing your own experiences in others. To a degree, seeing how other people deal and have dealt with depression can be helpful.

However, it’s less helpful when the comparisons made aren’t with other people who have mental health issues but completely unrelated challenges and personal struggles. It’s dangerous to try and make analogies between depression and other challenges in life, let alone ones unrelated to mental health.

Don’t Dismiss Their Feelings with “You Have So Much”

Gratitude can be a helpful tool when managing your emotions, building mental resilience, and continuing therapy after treatment. But for someone struggling with acute feelings of depression, listing all the things that are worth living for just might not be enough.

Your teen could have friends, good grades, a lovely home, and loving parents. Yet despite that, they still feel inexplicably sad when they have every reason to be happy. Pointing out why they shouldn’t feel sad doesn’t address their ongoing emotional pain.

Avoid “You’re Just Looking for Attention”

Many teens with serious mental health issues are accused of being attention-seekers. To a degree, attention-seeking is normal for teens with depression. They recognize that they need help. But they might not know what kind of help or from whom.

They might not even be able to verbalize how they feel, let alone eloquently explain what kind of psychiatric modality they’d like to seek out in a clinical treatment setting. Shutting down a teen’s cry for some kind of positive or helpful response from others only serves to cement the idea that they’re alone with their pain.

Don’t Say “You’re Being Selfish”

Trying to bully a teen into gratitude emotionally only serves to amplify their feelings of shame and guilt, which are already prevalent in teen depression.

Teens who are depressed will naturally assume that everything is their fault and undermine their achievements – further piling onto those feelings only buries them in deeper anguish. Don’t do that. Instead, consider that your teen is feeling sad without any control over why or how – and find positive things to hold onto, whether it’s something that made them smile recently or something they achieved despite their depression.

Explore Teen Depression Treatment at Visions

Depression can be a severe mental health issue and may require professional teen depression treatment through a teen treatment center.

Visions Adolescent Treatment Centers offers evidence-based therapies, compassionate care, and a supportive environment to help teenagers overcome depression.

Contact us today to schedule a free assessment.


Understanding what not to say to a depressed teenager will ensure your communication is received positively by your teen.

The impact of our words on a depressed teenager cannot be overstated. By choosing our language with empathy and care, we can avoid exacerbating their feelings of isolation.

Creating a supportive environment encourages open dialogue, fosters trust, and facilitates healing. Through understanding and thoughtful communication, we can truly make a difference in their journey towards well-being.

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